The United States is monitoring information indicating that North Korea may be running a large underground military base in Syria that could be used for advanced weaponry and nuclear-related work, according to regional reports and U.S. officials tracking the situation.
Regional reports have begun to surface indicating North Korea has neared completion of the construction of an underground military base located near Qardaha in Syria, the hometown of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
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"According to … satellite images and a military source the underground facility has been under construction for seven years, started by the beginning if the Syrian revolution in March 2011," Zaman Al Wasl, a Syrian news outlet, reported earlier this month. "The high level of secrecy and tight guard in the North Korean base raise speculations whether it's a nuclear facility or overseas depot for North Korean weapons."
U.S. officials told the Washington Free Beacon they are monitoring these reports and efforts by North Korea to help Assad rebuild Syria's chemical weapons factories.
"We are aware of reports regarding possible DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] assistance to Syria to rebuild its chemical weapons capabilities," a State Department official, speaking on background, told the Free Beacon. "We take these allegations very seriously and we are working assiduously to prevent the Assad regime from obtaining material and equipment to support its chemical weapons program."
The Trump administration has been engaged in efforts to counter North Korea's proliferation in Syria, particularly its efforts to supply Assad with chemical weapons.
"The United States has long expressed its deep concerns about both the assistance the DPRK provides to Syria's weapons programs and Syria's ongoing possession and use of chemical weapons—both activities in defiance of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions," the State Department official said.
The underground North Korean military base could be hiding more than just chemical weapons, according to regional reports indicating that the sheer size of the base, which is mostly situated within a mountain, raises concerns of nuclear work.
Purported satellite images of the base circulating on the internet indicate that only a small portion of the facility is visible from above ground.
"Long tunnels have been built during the last seven years in a deep valley in Qardaha under the supervision of North Korean experts," the Zaman Al Wasl outlet reported.
The United Nations recently cited North Korea for its increased efforts to meddle in Syria and provide the Assad regime with new caches of chemical weapons.
This has fueled U.S. concerns about the hermit nation at a time when the Trump administration is pursuing diplomatic talks regarding North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Evidence that North Korea is working to bolster the Assad regime is likely to fuel further international tensions as Iran and Russia undertake similar efforts. The newest underground facility may facilitate further Iranian and North Korean military collaboration.
The Trump administration is continuing efforts to crackdown on this military collaboration and is urging allies to apply similar pressure.
"North Korea is a significant threat to international security and the Assad regime's ongoing use of chemical weapons is a similar affront to international law," the State Department official said. "We work with all our partners to uphold U.N. Security Council Resolutions and prevent North Korea and Syria from further threatening international peace and stability."