U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has boosted production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months, and may try to hide these while asking for concessions in nuclear talks with Washington, NBC News quoted U.S. officials as saying.
In a report on Friday, the network said what it described as the latest U.S. intelligence assessment seemed to contradict hopes expressed by President Trump, who tweeted after the June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”
NBC quoted five unidentified U.S. officials as asserting that in recent months North Korea had increased production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, even as it engaged in diplomacy with the United States.
The network cited U.S. officials as saying that the intelligence assessment concludes that North Korea has more than one secret nuclear site in addition to its known nuclear fuel production facility at Yongbyon.
“There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the US,” NBC quoted one official as saying.
The NBC report raises further questions about North Korea’s willingness to enter serious negotiations about abandoning a weapons programme that now threatens the United States, in spite of Trump’s enthusiasm for the summit outcome.
NBC quoted one senior U.S. intelligence official as saying that North Korea’s decision ahead of the summit to suspend nuclear and missile tests was unexpected and the fact that the two sides were talking was a positive step.
However, he added: “Work is ongoing to deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles ... We are watching closely.”
North Korea agreed at the summit to “work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but the joint statement signed by Kim and Trump gave no details of how or when Pyongyang might surrender its nuclear weapons.
Ahead of the summit, North Korea rejected unilaterally abandoning an arsenal it has called an essential deterrent against U.S. aggression.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week he would likely go back to North Korea before long to try to flesh out commitments made at the Trump-Kim meeting.
On Thursday, the Financial Times quoted U.S. officials as saying that Pompeo plans to travel to North Korea next week, but the State Department has declined to confirm this.
This week, Washington-based North Korean monitoring project 38 North said recent satellite imagery showed North Korea had made rapid improvements to facilities at Yongbyon since May 6, but it could not say if such work had continued after June 12.