US hints at tougher sanctions as North Korea restores missile site

A man watches the North Korean side on Friday at the Unification Observation Post in Paju, South Korea. (AP)
Updated 09 March 2019

US hints at tougher sanctions as North Korea restores missile site

  • Pyonyang’s action ‘poses challenges for goal of irreversible denuclearization’

SEOUL: US analysts have claimed a North Korean satellite station, suspected of being used to test intercontinental ballistic missiles, has returned to “normal operational status” despite a pledge to dismantle it.

The move could threaten future denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang, following the collapse of the second Trump-Kim Summit in Hanoi in February. 

In a briefing to reporters on Thursday, a senior US State Department official warned that the US government would impose tougher sanctions on North Korea, though it remained open to dialogue with Kim Jong Un.

He added Washington would ask Pyongyang to allow US experts to visit the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, known as the Tongchang-ri long-range missile site.

“We will definitely be seeking clarification, and will seek the admission of US inspectors to the site to verify the permanent dismantlement and destruction,” he said, making clear that sanctions would remain in place in the meantime without exceptions.

On Thursday, the monitoring website 38 North claimed the Tongchang-ri site appeared to have returned to normal operational status, citing satellite images from March 6.

“Construction to rebuild the launch pad and engine test stand that began before the Hanoi summit has continued at a rapid pace,” 38 North said in a report. 

“Given that construction, plus activity at other areas of the site, Sohae appears to have returned to normal operational status.”

Going into details, the report said work on the rail-mounted transfer structure appeared to have been completed. Cranes had been removed from the pad, and the overhead trusses being installed on the roof were covered.

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies concurred with the findings.

“The rebuilding activities at Sohae demonstrate how quickly North Korea can easily render reversible any steps taken toward scrapping its WMD program with little hesitation,” the research group said. 

“This poses challenges for the US goal of final, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization.”

In response to the reports, Trump said he was “a little disappointed.” The South Korean government, though, is seeking ways of resuming economic projects with the North, a move that could strain relations with the US.

President Moon Jae-in appointed a new unification minister, who was a key architect of the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North. First opened in 2004, the complex was closed in 2016 after a series of North Korean military provocations.

Moon is also looking to reopen the Mount Kumgang resort in the North. The tourism program was suspended in 2008. after a South Korean female tourist was shot dead by a North Korean guard.

Pakistan bracing for austere budget under IMF, finance chief says

Updated 25 May 2019

Pakistan bracing for austere budget under IMF, finance chief says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is preparing a belt-tightening budget to tame its fiscal deficit, the de facto finance minister said on Saturday, adding that both civilian and military rulers agreed austerity measures were needed to stabilise the economy.
But Hafeez Shaikh, Prime Minister Imran Khan's top finance adviser, declined to say whether the military's hefty budget would be cut following last week's agreement in principle with the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion loan.
The IMF has said the primary budget deficit should be trimmed by the equivalent of $5 billion, but previous civilian rulers have rarely dared to trim defence spending for fear of stoking tensions with the military.
Unlike some other civilian leaders in Pakistan's fragile democracy, Khan appears to have good relations with the country's powerful generals.
More than half of state spending currently goes on the military and debt-servicing costs, however, limiting the government's options for reducing expenditure.
"The budget that is coming will have austerity, that means that the government's expenditures will be put at a minimum level," Shaikh told a news conference in the capital Islamabad on Saturday, a few weeks before the budget for the 2019/20 fiscal year ending in June is due to be presented.
"We are all standing together in it whether civilians or our military," said Shaikh, a former finance minister appointed by Khan as part of a wider shake-up of his economic team in the last two months.
In the days since last week's agreement with the IMF, the rupee currency dropped 5% against the dollar and has lost a third of its value in the past year.
Under the IMF's terms, the government is expected to let the rupee fall to help correct an unsustainable current account deficit and cut its debt while trying to expand the tax base in a country where only 1% of people file returns.
Shaikh has been told by the IMF that the primary budget deficit -- excluding interest payments -- should be cut to 0.6% of GDP, implying a $5 billion reduction from the current projection for a deficit of 2.2% of GDP.
The next fiscal year's revenue collection target will be 5.55 trillion rupees ($36.88 billion), Shaikh told the news conference, highlighting the need for tough steps to broaden the tax base.