Kim Jong-un loves his missiles and long-range weapons so much that he has reportedly built monuments to mark their launch sites, as an outward reminder of the regime’s military prowess.
The reports, which come from grainy satellite images analysed by Dave Schmerler, a researcher at the US-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation studies, underline how tough it will be to persuade Mr Kim to make concessions over his weapons at the negotiating table.
North Korea experts have urged US President Donald Trump and his advisors to have a clear strategy and vision of what they want to achieve during an unprecedented summit between the American and North Korean leaders, expected sometime by May.
The regime’s rapidly advancing nuclear and weapons programme has been integral to the crafting of Mr Kim’s cult of personality and propaganda image as a regional strongman capable of defending the hermit kingdom against so-called US aggression.
The discovery of the monuments began after Mr Schmerler analysed the site of North Korea’s last launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-15, on November 28.
Mr Kim declared the successful launch had “finally realised the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power.”
The rocket was fired from a site about three miles northeast of a well-known car factory. When Mr Schmerler geolocated and studied the spot from satellite imagery, he noticed ongoing construction.
Closer inspection revealed landscaping, and a concrete pad with a giant stone structure, prompting him to take a look at the launch site of the Hwasong-14, North Korea’s first ICBM test on July, which raised fears that the regime would be capable of striking the US mainland with a nuclear missile.
Monument-like structures appeared also to have been constructed at the spot to mark the occasion.
“The monuments are new. But they suggest an ongoing effort by the government to memorialise the event. Missile launches clearly mean a lot to the North Koreans,” wrote Mr Schmerler on armscontrolwonk.com.
“Recently, Kim Jong-un reportedly told a group of visiting South Koreans that ‘achieving denuclearisation is his father’s dying wish’. These two monuments suggest that his son may have a different set of priorities.”
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Other analysts have seized on the images as revealing important insights into Pyongyang’s approach to future negotiations.
North Korean missile ranges
“Kim Jong-un is building monuments to both the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15; the idea that his ICBMs and nuclear weapons were pursued as mere bargaining chips for eventual talks with the US doesn’t hold up,” tweeted Ankit Panda, Asia expert and senior editor at the Diplomat magazine.
Global sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear and missiles programmes have tightened considerably over the past two years, with US President Trump claiming credit for a “maximum pressure” strategy that he says has forced Mr Kim to the negotiating table.
But a leaked draft of a United Nations report has highlighted how difficult it is to universally enforce the sanctions. On Tuesday, it was reported that the report claims two Singapore companies have violated UN sanctions by supplying luxury goods to North Korea.
The findings of the report, due out later this week, highlight that other loopholes may still exist and how widespread breaches might be across Asia.
Singapore’s government said it was aware of the cases and had begun investigating where there was “credible information” of possible offences.