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As reported in the New York Times (March 8, 2019), the collapse of the Feb. 27-28 Hanoi summit meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump “was considered a big embarrassment” for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “because he had to return home empty-handed after Mr. Trump rejected his demand for relief from United Nations sanctions.”

Satellite imagery indicating North Korea has begun to rebuild the Sohae Satellite Launching Station at Tongchang-ri has raised fears among some analysts that the country might resume missile tests (New York Times, March 5, 2019).

Sohae Satellite Launching Station, March 6, 2019 (Credit: Pleiades © CNES 2019, Distribution Airbus Defence & Space via 38 North)

The U.S. response to these developments is critical to the progress of denuclearization talks with North Korea. In that regard, it is noteworthy that DPRK state media adopted a conciliatory tone, expressing the hope that “the whole world sincerely hopes that the peace process on the Korean Peninsula will proceed smoothly and the North Korea-United States relations will improve soon” (Rodong Sinmun, March 8, 2019).

The New York Times notes that the DPRK “has shied away from using harsh language against the United States or Mr. Trump” and that by “only indirectly blaming Washington for the failure and voicing hopes for better ties,” the Rodong Sinmun commentary “appeared to signal a willingness to keep diplomacy alive with the United States.”

That perspective suggests a path forward for the U.S., considering the political psychology of Kim Jong-un:

Chairman Kim is cooperative, willing to compromise or make concessions to resolve differences; however, he is also confident, competitive, and assertive and expects others to recognize his capabilities. As a dominant, controlling leader, he demands respect and can be tough and unsentimental in asserting himself. Finally, as an outgoing, expressive personality, he is not averse to employing dramatic, attention‑getting maneuvers to signal intent or to achieve his political objectives.

Thus, for President Trump, this is not the time to employ coercive diplomacy by reverting to “maximum pressure,” personal affronts to Chairman Kim’s dignity, or otherwise signaling hostile intent. Instead, the president should stay the course by continuing to emphasize his special relationship with Kim to accommodate his need for self-validation and permit him to save face as his nation’s supreme leader in the aftermath of the failed Hanoi summit.

In response to signals from North Korea on the resumption of rocket testing and satellite- or missile launches, there are three political-psychological inflection points for targeting resistance and gaining compliance:

  • President Trump should guard against manipulative behavior by the DPRK designed to secure short-term payoffs.
  • President Trump should be aware of and preempt Chairman Kim’s predisposition to terminate the negotiation partnership upon
    realizing the structural constraints on the ability of the president to make concessions or offer assistance.
  • President Trump should deescalate the situation by reaffirming the strength of the negotiation partnership.


March 14, 2019 Update

North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launch Facility: No new activity since March 8 (Jack Liu, Peter Makowsky, and Jenny Town, 38 North, March 13, 2019) — Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station (Tongchang-ri) shows no changes to the launch pad or engine test stand between March 8 and March 13. … Full report


March 16, 2019 Update

The U.S. and North Korea are back to talking tough (Uri Friedman, The Atlantic, March 16, 2019) — The attack dogs have been let loose. That much was clear from the stark message North Korea delivered this week after the collapse of Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un in Vietnam last month: Kim is considering abandoning nuclear negotiations with the United States and resuming the nuclear and missile tests that brought the two countries to the brink of war early on in the Trump administration. … The unmuzzling of the attack dogs on each side is a reminder that Trump and Kim are each contending with a hard-line faction at home that views the diplomacy they’re engaged in as a hopeless and dangerous endeavor. As [North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui] noted this week, Kim decided to press ahead with diplomacy in Vietnam despite the fact that military leaders are petitioning him not to give up his nuclear program. … Full report


March 22, 2019 Update


March 22, 2018



President Donald Trump’s early afternoon tweet sent the international community scrambling.

Trump tweeted the administration would withdraw additional sanctions against North Korea … even though those additional sanctions had just been announced by his own administration.

The White House declined to give details on the sudden policy shift, but said Trump was pulling back newly issued sanctions because he “likes” North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, according to CNN’s Jeremy Diamond and Kylie Atwood.

It was not immediately clear which sanctions Trump was referring to in his tweet. But just 24 hours earlier, the Treasury Department announced sanctions targeting two Chinese shipping companies that have allegedly helped North Korea skirt sanctions imposed by the United Nations.

Topical report

The Personality Profile of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un

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One Response to “U.S. Response to North Korea’s Rebuilding Activity at Sohae Satellite Launching Station”
  1. North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un's Personality Profile | USPP Says:

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