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North Korea Is Working On New Missiles, 'Washington Post' Reports


There was a summit in Singapore. There were handshakes and a whole lot of ceremony, even signatures on papers. President Trump then said North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat. Now, there are reports that U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea is still building weapons. The Washington Post quotes unnamed officials as saying that work is underway on intercontinental ballistic missiles in North Korea. There have also been recent reports of a suspected uranium enrichment facility that continues to operate in the country. Joby Warrick and Ellen Nakashima reported this story for The Post. And Joby Warrick joins us now. Joby, thanks for being here.

JOBY WARRICK: Good morning.

MARTIN: What's the evidence that this is happening?

WARRICK: Well, we have pretty good evidence. We've been seeing bits of this actually coming out for the last several weeks, reports that fissile material is still being produced. The weapons factories - and there are hundreds of facilities in North Korea, we have to remember - are just continuing to do work as normal. And the latest little bit of this is the fact that intercontinental ballistic missiles, the ones that we most fear because they can hit the U.S. mainland, they're still being produced as well. We've seen factories up and running, and the intelligence community sees specifically that new ICBMs (ph) are still on the assembly line and still being made.

MARTIN: Is this actually a violation of a promise that North Korea made to the U.S.?

WARRICK: So this is the part that I think people need to understand. North Korea's commitments to President Trump and Singapore were quite vague. They never said, for example, that we're going to stop making anything - at least right away. They only made a very vague promise to eventually denuclearize. And that means something to North Korea that might be a little different from how we might view it here in the United States. They're looking at a long-term process. But they don't seem to be in any hurry to give up their weapons, which they depend on for their survival.

MARTIN: So it may have been, we can say, premature for President Trump to declare that North Korea's no a longer nuclear threat.

WARRICK: I think many in the intelligence community see that as well. The other thing to remember is that North Korea has a very long history of dealing with us in various arms control negotiations. And their tactic has been to delay, to try to lead us to make concessions and then to essentially do what they want to do in secret. And the concern is that's what's happening in this case.

MARTIN: So it doesn't matter that - I mean, clearly the North would understand that there is going to be far more surveillance of any potential activity in this direction. Do they really care? I mean, do they care if anyone finds out, or do they want the world to find out that they are going on with business as usual?

WARRICK: You have to wonder whether there is a bit of a negotiating tactic going on here because, yes, they want to extract concessions from us. Whatever they give up, they're not going to give up easily. But they also have a record of being able to conceal things from us. There's a new - new reports about a uranium enrichment facility. These are the factories that make enriched uranium, which you need for nuclear bombs, radium or plutonium. And they were operating this thing for at least 10 years before any news or any word about this plant leaked to the outside world. So they are very good at hiding things. Our intelligence hasn't been all that good in figuring out what they're doing and where their locations are, so perhaps they did think they could get away with hiding things from the U.S.

MARTIN: The intelligence officials who were telling you all this stuff, did you get the sense that they were surprised?

WARRICK: Actually not so much. In fact, I think they were surprised that there's been some credulity to North Korea's claims that they were going to give things up. I mean, these people, the ones who are watching North Korea most closely, they've been seeing this kind of behavior for a very long time, and they know what the North Koreans do and how they operate. They don't really expect that North Korea is going to give up weapons very easily. And so what they're seeing on the ground is essentially a validation of what they've been believing all along. I think everybody would like to see tensions reduced. And I think everyone's glad to see that the rhetoric has calmed down. But they're seeing this as a very long game, and it's something that's not going to be resolved anytime soon.

MARTIN: Do we know if the North Korean regime has responded to these reports, or has the Trump said anything about this?

WARRICK: Well, just last week, we saw the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, just for the administration trying to back off or trying to sort of tamp down expectations in saying that this is - you know, we're aware that North Korea is still continuing to do things. We were not being taken for a ride, to use his words. But this is a productive process. Talks are ongoing, and we expect good things to happen. North Koreans have not said very much. They have been, you know, very slow in the negotiation process. They haven't always been responsive to our requests. And so they seem to be taking a wait-and-see attitude and just kind of slow rolling the process to see what they can get out of it.

MARTIN: Clearly the North feeling like they have the leverage in this moment. Joby Warrick of The Washington Post - thanks so much for sharing your reporting on this, Joby. We appreciate it.

WARRICK: Sure, appreciate your time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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