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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.


May 5, 2019 Update

Kim Personally Supervised ‘Guided Weapons’ Test, North Korea Says

By Simon Denyer and Min Joo Kim

May 4, 2019


SEOUL — North Korea confirmed Sunday that it had fired multiple rocket launchers and “tactical guided weapons” from its east coast the previous day under the personal supervision of leader Kim Jong Un, with experts saying the test included a short-range ballistic missile.

The test does not invalidate North Korea’s self-declared moratorium on inter-continental ballistic missile tests, but it clearly raises tensions with Washington and Seoul. …

Earlier, President Trump appeared to play down the threat and leave the door open to diplomacy.

“Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!” he tweeted. …

The launches set off a flurry of phone calls and meetings, with, for instance, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talking to Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono and South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha. Special Envoy Stephen Biegun talked to his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon, and South Korea’s national security director convened an emergency meeting. …

Pyongyang announced a moratorium on nuclear and inter-continental ballistic missile tests in November 2017, helping to set the stage for the talks with South Korea and the United States. But tensions have grown since the breakdown of a summit in Hanoi between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The regime is frustrated with the continued imposition of United Nations Security Council sanctions and by what it sees as unilateral U.S. demands that it disarm.

It has also repeatedly complained about continued military exercises between the United States and South Korea. It recently warned that American hostility would “as wind is bound to bring waves . . . naturally bring our corresponding acts.”

Last month, it announced that Kim had attended the successful testing of a “tactical guided weapon,” and the latest missile launch appears to be a further calibrated step to signal its frustration.

Grace Liu, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif., called the launch “a signal” that the Pyongyang regime wants movement on negotiations with the United States.

In a speech last month, Kim Jong Un said he would be prepared to meet Trump for a third summit, but only if the United States fundamentally changed its approach. He also warned that his patience was running out and gave the United States until the end of the year to make a “bold decision.”

“The message here is not that diplomacy is over — remember, Kim has set the clock ticking to the end of the year,” said Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow in the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists. “Rather, this serves, like the tactical weapon tests, to show internal naysayers . . . that Kim takes national defense seriously.”

It can also be seen as a “tit-for-tat” move in response to U.S.-South Korea exercises, he said.

Shin Beom-chul, at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, noted that North Korea had also objected strongly to last month’s U.S.-South Korean training on an anti-ballistic missile defense system purchased from the United States, denouncing it as a “military provocation.”

“I view [the launch] as a way to pressure the United States,” he said. “They are reacting to South Korea’s military build up and THAAD missile defense training, while showing the possibility of carrying out a strategic provocation like a long-range missile launch.”

Such a long-range missile launch, if it happened, would devastate President Trump’s “self-proclaimed achievement in North Korea policy,” he said.

Harry Kazianis, Korean studies director at the National Interest said it was a sign of Kim’s mounting frustration and warned it had raised risks of an escalation in tension.

“Chairman Kim has decided to remind the world — and specifically the United States — that his weapons capabilities are growing by the day,” he said. “My fear is that we are at the beginning stages of a slide back to the days of nuclear war threats and personal insults, a dangerous cycle of spiking tensions that must be avoided at all costs.”


October 3, 2019 Update

US Officials Assess North Korea Launched a Medium-Range Missile

By Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne

October 2, 2019


The US has assessed that North Korea tested a medium-range missile on Wednesday local time. It was fired from a launcher placed on a floating barge off the coast of the country, according to two US officials familiar with the latest assessment.

The test came a day after Pyongyang and Washington agreed to resume nuclear talks.

This marks a departure from the tests of shorter range missiles Pyongyang has carried out in recent weeks. President Donald Trump has downplayed the significance of those launches calling them very standard because of their limiting range saying “many people have those missiles.”

“There have been no nuclear tests. The missile tests have all been short-ranged — no ballistic missile test. No long-range missiles,” Trump said in August.

The missile was launched from near Wonsan, a city in Kangwon Province on North Korea’s east coast and flew for a distance of 450 kilometers (280 miles) before landing in waters off Japan. It reached an altitude of 910 kilometers (565 miles), South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff said in a statement Wednesday. …

Shortly after the launch US and South Korean officials said the missile was assessed to be a Submarine Launch Ballistic type missile (SLBM), though a US official said it was launched from a barge-like platform designed to test underwater launches and not a submarine which North Korea has never demonstrate the ability to fire from.

The latest US assessment says that the missile was not underwater when it was launched from the barge.

While North Korea has launched multiple short-range missiles in recent weeks it has not launched a medium-range missile since 2017, long before the June 2018 meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was held in Singapore.

The most recent North Korean launch took place the day after Pyongyang and Washington agreed to resume nuclear talks.

Trump has yet to comment on the latest North Korean launch but a State Department spokesperson called on Pyongyang “to refrain from provocations, abide by their obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions, and remain engaged in substantive and sustained negotiations to do their part to ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and achieve denuclearization.”

Short-range ballistic missiles are considered to be missiles with a range of anything less than 1,000 kilometers, approximately 620 miles. Medium-range ballistic missiles have a range of between 1,000 and 3,000 kilometers or approximately 620-1,860 miles. …

After more than a year of refraining from missile tests, Kim’s regime has conducted 11 launches since May including Wednesday’s. Most of those are believed to be short-range missiles, and experts say they have shown impressive technological advancements.



Topical report

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

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2 Responses 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:

    […] U.S. Response to North Korea’s Rebuilding Activity at Sohae Satellite Launching Station […]

  2. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Kim Jong-un’s ‘Christmas Gift’ to Donald Trump Says:

    […] A second test [at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station] of what appeared to be an advanced missile engine, part of what North Korea said on Saturday was part of a “reliable strategic nuclear deterrent,” left little doubt that the country is moving quickly toward resuming the program that led to a crisis with Washington two years ago. […]

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