New satellite images suggest North Korea would not be ready to conduct a nuclear test before U.S. President Obama leaves the region this week.
Space-based surveillance photographs taken as recently as April 19 show an uptick in activity at the North’s Punggye-ri testing grounds compared to early March, according to a Tuesday analysis by the expert website 38 North. That has led to some media conjecture that Pyongyang intends to carry out its fourth atomic test while Obama visits South Korea on Friday and Saturday.
The 38 North analysis acknowledges “that may be possible but appears unlikely,” based on a reading of the commercial satellite images and takeaways from previous atomic detonations by the North.
“Recent operations at Punggye-ri have not reached the high level of intensity — in terms of vehicle, personnel and equipment movement — that occurred in the weeks prior to past detonations,” said 38 North, which is a project of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. “Moreover, other possible indicators … such as communications vans and a satellite dish intended to transmit pre-test data, have not been spotted.”
According to the analysis, there is a chance the increased activity is related to maintenance work made possible by improved weather conditions.
Pyongyang has repeated threats in recent weeks that it is prepared to carry out a “new” kind of nuclear test, which might allude to a different form of device or multiple trial blasts.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye, in a Wednesday phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, urged him to work harder to persuade Pyongyang not to carry out another nuclear test, Agence France-Presse reported.
However, the Kim Jong Un regime on Wednesday blasted Park’s lobbying efforts, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
Seoul “should not even dream that we will be coaxed into laying down our nuclear” weapon efforts by words alone, Pyongyang’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement.
What We're Following See More »
The White House on Wednesday laid out its plan for tax reform, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying it would be "the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country." The tax code would be broken down into just three tax brackets, with the highest personal income tax rate cut from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. The plan would also slash the tax rate on corporations and small businesses from 35 percent to 15 percent. "The White House plan is a set of principles with few details, but it’s designed to be the starting point of a major push to urge Congress to pass a comprehensive tax reform package this year," said National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.
"An emerging government funding deal would see Democrats agree to $15 billion in additional military funding in exchange for the GOP agreeing to fund healthcare subsidies, according to two congressional officials briefed on the talks. Facing a Friday deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a shutdown, Democrats are willing to go halfway to President Trump’s initial request of $30 billion in supplemental military funding."
The Michael Flynn story is not going away for the White House as it tries to refocus its attention. The White House has denied requests from the House Oversight Committee for information and documents regarding payments that the former national security adviser received from Russian state television station RT and Russian firms. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Elijah Cummings also said that Flynn failed to report these payments on his security clearance application. White House legislative director Marc Short argued that the documents requested are either not in the possession of the White House or contain sensitive information he believes is not applicable to the committee's stated investigation.