The U.S. research group says North Korea has started dismantling key facilities at its main satellite launch site in what appears to be a step toward fulfilling a commitment made by leader Kim Jong Un at his summit with President Donald Trump in June.
The dismantling at the site comes after Kim Jong-un promised to halt all missile testing, and is a significant confidence-building measure.
No work has been reported at any of the other sites so far, which include the Chamjin Machine Factory test stand, Iha-ri Driver Training and Test Facility test stand, Magunpo Solid Rocket Motor Test Facility, Nampo Shipyard submersible test stand barge, Sinpo South Shipyard submersible test stand barge, Sinpo South Shipyard test stand, and Tonghae (Musudan-ri) Satellite Launch Facility.
A North Korean missile launching station appears to be in the process of being taken down, according to a report from U.S. -Korea watchdog 38 North. It contracted at the sharpest rate in two decades in 2017, South Korea's central bank has estimated, in a clear sign worldwide sanctions due to Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes have hit growth hard.
"A Rocket has not been launched by North Korea in 9 months", Trump wrote in a morning tweet.
But regional analysts say the move leaves the USA far short of Mr. Trump's original demand: a quick, complete, verifiable and irreversible end to the North's nuclear weapons and missile programs. Japan is happy, all of Asia is happy.
"We all want diplomacy to succeed, so I am interested to hear more from Secretary Pompeo this Wednesday on his views on this development - and if he considers this to be significant", the New Jersey Democrat said in reference to the images published Monday.
Pyongyang has always maintained Sohae was a satellite launch site but United States officials have long suspected it was used to test ballistic missiles.
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Indeed, when pressed Tuesday on what more North Korea needs to do, Mr. Pompeo said the nation must "completely, fully denuclearize" - though he did not offer any specific steps that must be taken or when they must be carried out, nor did he discuss any other missile test or research facilities that the US wants to see dismantled.
On Monday, Ms Rebecca Hersman, a former deputy assistant secretary of defence for countering weapons of mass destruction, said at a panel on denuclearisation of North Korea: "Unless and until North Korea comes to the conclusion for itself that possessing nuclear weapons is more risky to its security than eliminating them... the best we can hope for is risk reduction".
"So, we shouldn't get too drunk on optimism here", he said.
Gross domestic product (GDP) in North Korea last year contracted 3.5% from the previous year, marking the biggest contraction since a 6.5% drop in 1997, when the isolated nation was going through a devastating starvation, the Bank of Korea said.
The dismantled sites are key, and not just because Trump and Kim talked about them.
The factory visit was the latest of a series of site inspections by Kim, including industrial facilities and special economic zones near North Korea's border with China, according to state media, after Kim shifted his focus from nuclear missiles to the economy in April.
The test site has been paramount to North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile and space programs. "We've been pressing for there to be inspectors on the ground when that engine test facility is dismantled consistent with Chairman Kim's commitment".
"I simply don't believe North Korea has made this choice" she said at the panel at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where she is an adviser to the think-tank's International Security Programme.