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N. Korea’s long-range missile test site faces verifiable shutdown

North Korea’s key long-range missile test site faces a permanent shutdown as this week‘s cross-border summit declaration entails a plan for the closure, subject to verification by outside experts.

The Dongchang-ri site on the North’s west coast, also known as the Sohae Launching Station, is seen as a key facility for the communist state to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) capable of striking the continental United States.

Given that Pyongyang‘s push for the ICBM development has galvanized Washington’s engagement with the reclusive regime, the site‘s verifiable shutdown is expected to provide fresh impetus to denuclearization talks between the two countries.

A picture of a long-range missile being test-fired from Sohae Launching Station (Yonhap)
A picture of a long-range missile being test-fired from Sohae Launching Station (Yonhap)

The North is said to have already taken steps to close the site. But the steps have yet to be verified, spawning speculation that its claim about the shutdown might be yet another subterfuge to maintain dialogue momentum and secure sanctions relief.

The Dongchang-ri site is known for a facility to test a core liquid-fuel engine for the North’s ICBM. Since 2012, Pyongyang has tested a series of long-range missiles, including the Unha-3 rocket, often under the disguise of “satellite development.”

Pyongyang‘s program to develop a nuclear-tipped ICBM has been posing a key security challenge to the U.S. It has also stoked worries that the South Korea-U.S. alliance could be “decoupled” due to the possibility that Washington may not come to the defense of its ally in the event of a missile attack for fear that it could be targeted by a North Korean ICBM.

The launching site in Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, is known to consist of a missile engine development facility, a launching pad, a static rocket motor test stand, a launch control building and other facilities. (Yonhap)