President Donald Trump has praised recent satellite images showing North Korea beginning the process of dismantling key facilities at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on the country's northwest coast.
"We appreciated that," Trump said on Tuesday after the U.S.-based North Korea monitoring group 38 North first reported the images.
They show the dismantling of a rail-mounted processing building, where space launch vehicles are assembled before being moved to the launch pad, and the nearby rocket engine test stand, where liquid-fuel engines are developed for ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles, 38 North said.
At a press conference in California, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the activities are “entirely consistent with the commitment” made by North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un at the Singapore summit where Kim and Trump met in June.
“We've been pressing for there to be inspectors on the ground when that engine test facility is dismantled," said Pompeo after meeting with his Australian counterparts on Tuesday.
"They need to completely, fully denuclearize. That's the steps that Chairman Kim [is] committed to and the world has demanded through U.N. Security Council resolution,” Pompeo added.
On Capitol Hill, Democrat Chris Coons, who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was cautiously optimistic.
"This is the first sign that there may be some movement by the North Korean regime in the direction of meeting the commitments that were made," Coons said. "It would be more encouraging to me if we saw the return of the remains of Americans killed in action during the Korean War. It would be even more encouraging if there were some detailed plan discussed about how irreversible and verifiable denuclearization might happen, but this is an encouraging first step."
38 North analyst Joseph Bermudez called the move an "important first step towards fulfilling a commitment" made by Kim during the Singapore summit.
"We had a fantastic meeting with Chairman Kim, and it seems to be going very well," Trump said Tuesday.
A day after the summit last month, Trump said in a tweet, "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."
Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
But their agreement contained no details about when or how North Korea would abandon its nuclear weapons program or shut down its existing nuclear facilities. Pompeo met in Pyongyang recently with North Korean officials to try to advance discussions, but there appeared to be little progress. Some diplomats say the North Koreans have canceled meetings and failed to maintain basic communications with the U.S.
Trump has publicly professed satisfaction at the pace of negotiations with North Korea, saying last week there was "no rush" in completing talks with Pyongyang because U.S. and United Nations economic sanctions against North Korea remain in place.
On Monday, the U.S. State, Treasury and Homeland Security departments said, "The international community cannot let up on pressure" until North Korea ends its nuclear weapons program.
Trump said last week that U.S. relations with North Korea "are very good, and the process is moving along." He said that with eventual denuclearization, there would be "big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process!"
But several news outlets have reported in recent days that behind the scenes at the White House, Trump has voiced his displeasure to aides at the pace of talks in pushing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.