After a summit in Singapore with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un last summer, President Donald Trump tweeted that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”
The enthusiasm proved premature.
Diplomatic progress between the two countries slowed throughout the fall, and North Korea continued many of its activities as usual, including advancing its nuclear weapons research and improving some missile bases, according to experts.
As he heads to a second summit in Vietnam this week, Trump has continued to lavish praise on Kim, but he has dialed down some of the claims. Other U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have said they hope to achieve more “real demonstrable, verifiable” steps this time around.
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Here’s a closer look at the evidence that North Korea has not significantly changed its nuclear weapons program since the summit in Singapore.
North Korea’s first steps weren’t significant
Over the course of 2018, North Korea did make a few big gestures at limiting its nuclear weapons program. But many of these took place in preparation for Kim’s first meeting with Trump.
In late April, Kim announced he would suspend nuclear and missile tests and close a nuclear test site at Punggye-ri — but he said he was doing so simply because North Korea no longer needed to test nuclear weapons or intercontinental missiles.
Then when North Korea said it destroyed the nuclear test site in May, it allowed foreign journalists to observe explosions set off at the site’s entrances, but did not let nuclear experts verify that the site was fully destroyed.
“Trump has held up the testing moratorium and North Korea’s partial dismantlement of a missile test site as significant steps,” says Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association. “But in reality, these are low-cost commitments for North Korea to make and these steps do not reduce the risk posed by the nuclear weapons program. And they don’t indicate if North Korea is serious about pursuing denuclearization.”
North Korea is still making fuel for nuclear weapons
Soon after Trump and Kim met in Singapore, analysts began to raise questions about how much progress was really being made.
Few expected North Korea to make drastic changes right away, but it soon became clear that many aspects of the country’s nuclear weapons program were running business as usual. In July of 2018, for example, Pompeo drew headlines when he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that North Korea was actively make fuel for nuclear weapons, saying “they continue to produce fissile material.”
North Korea likely added several nuclear bombs to its arsenal last year, according to experts. Some estimates have said the regime had enough fissile material for about six additional nuclear weapons, which would mean it has 30 to 60 in total.
“North Korea set the goal in 2018 of mass production of nuclear weapons,” Davenport said. “So North Korea’s arsenal continues to grow as diplomacy progresses.”
The U.S. doesn’t know a lot of details about the program
There were also reports that North Korea was not only continuing its previous efforts, but also increasing production of fuel in 2018. In late June, NBC News reported that U.S. intelligence agencies believed North Korea was…