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North Korea conducts new test at rocket site, aims to ‘overpower U.S. nuclear threats’


SEOUL — North Korea said it had successfully conducted another test at a satellite launch site, the latest in a string of developments aimed at “restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat of the U.S.,” state news agency KCNA reported on Saturday.

The test was conducted on Friday at the Sohae satellite launch site, KCNA said, citing a spokesman for North Korea’s Academy of Defence Science, without specifying what sort of testing occurred.

In a later statement carried by KCNA, Chief of the General Staff Pak Jong Chon said the tests were designed to bolster North Korea’s defenses by developing new weapons.

“The priceless data, experience and new technologies gained in the recent tests of defense science research will be fully applied to the development of another strategic weapon of the DPRK for definitely and reliably restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat of the U.S.,” he said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

It was the second test at the Sohae facility in the space of a week.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversees a super-large multiple launch rocket system test in this undated picture released by North Korea’s Central News Agency (KCNA) on November 28, 2019.

KCNA via REUTERS

KCNA on Sunday said that North Korea had carried out a “very important” test on Dec. 7 at the satellite launch site, a rocket-testing facility that U.S. officials once said North Korea had promised to close.

That KCNA report called the Dec. 7 event a “successful test of great significance.” South Korea’s defense minister Jeong Keong-doo said it was an engine test.

The reported tests come ahead of a year-end deadline North Korea has put forth for the United States to drop its insistence on unilateral denuclearisation by Pyongyang.

U.S. President Donald Trump has invested considerable time trying to persuade North Korea to give up a nuclear weapons program that has grown to threaten the United States, but progress has been scant in spite of his three meetings with Kim Jong Un.

“ARMY READY”

North Korea would be ready to respond to all political and military provocations by hostile forces while being “familiar with both dialog and confrontation,” Pak said.

“Genuine peace can be safeguarded and our development and future be guaranteed only when the balance of power is completely ensured,” he said.

Pak warned that the United States and others should avoid provoking North Korea if they wanted a peaceful end-of-year period.

“Our army is fully ready to thoroughly carry out any decision of the Supreme Leader with action,” he said.

Pyongyang has warned it could take a “new path” amid the stalled talks with the United States.

The top U.S envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, U.S. special envoy for North Korea, is due in Seoul on Sunday for meetings with South Korean officials.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday said the United States would be “tested soon” on bringing North Korea back to the negotiating table.

“They (North Korea) are still doing training, they do short range ballistic missile tests that we are also concerned about.

“We watch closely as do South Korea and Japan … the State Department is trying to get them to the table, because the only way forward is through a diplomatic and political agreement,” Esper said at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

The State Department is trying to get them to the table, because the only way forward is through a diplomatic and political agreement

REMINDER

Analysts said such tests could help North Korea build more reliable intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

“The point seems to be to remind the United States that North Korea still has space to qualitatively advance its program,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Federation of American Scientists.

“We had a good hint that whatever they were doing at Sohae was military in nature when the Academy of Defence Science took charge of the announcement, as opposed to NADA, their space agency,” Panda added.

Tension has been rising in recent weeks as Pyongyang has conducted weapons tests and waged a war of words with U.S. President Donald Trump, stoking fears that tensions between the two countries could return.

“Considering the fact that North Korea said the 7-minute test conducted last night was to bolster the strategic nuclear deterrence, the test would likely be related to ICBMs, which North Korea considers a strategic weapon to defend itself from adversaries including the United States,” Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University in Seoul, told Reuters.

“North Korea is close to issuing an ultimatum towards the United States to come to the negotiating table with new calculations or to return to developing nuclear weapons,” Koh added.





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N. Korea conducts ‘important test’ at once-dismantled site


North Korea said Sunday that it carried out a “very important test” at its long-range rocket launch site that it reportedly rebuilt after having partially dismantled it at the start of denuclearization talks with the United States last year.

The announcement comes amid dimming prospects for a resumption of negotiations, with the North threatening to seek “a new way” if it fails to get major U.S. concessions by year’s end. North Korea has said its resumption of nuclear and long-range missile tests depends on the United States.

Saturday’s test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground will have “an important effect on changing the strategic position of (North Korea) once again in the near future,” an unidentified spokesman from the North’s Academy of National Defense Science said in a statement, carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea didn’t say what the test included. Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said that North Korea likely tested for the first time a solid-fuel engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The use of solid fuel increases a weapon’s mobility and reduces the amount of launch preparation time. The long-range rockets that North Korea used in either ICBM launches or satellite liftoffs in recent years all used liquid propellants.

CNN reported Friday that a new satellite image indicated North Korea may be preparing to resume testing engines used to power satellite launchers and intercontinental ballistic missiles at the site.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry said in a brief statement later Sunday that South Korea and the United States are closely monitoring activities at the Sohae site and other key North Korean areas.

President Donald Trump reacted to the development by saying that North Korea “must denuclearize.”

“Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way,” Trump tweeted Sunday.

“North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearize as promised,” he said.

On Saturday, Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in discussed developments related to North Korea, and the two leaders committed to continuing close communication, the White House said in a statement. Moon’s office also released a similar statement, saying the two leaders had a 30-minute phone conversation at Trump’s request.

The North Korean test “is meant to improve military capabilities and to shore up domestic pride and legitimacy,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “With the activity at Sohae, Pyongyang is also trying to raise international concerns that it may intensify provocations and walk away from denuclearization talks next year.”

The Sohae launching center in Tongchang-ri, a seaside region in western North Korea, is where the North has carried out banned satellite launches in recent years, resulting in worldwide condemnation and U.N. sanctions over claims that they were disguised tests of long-range missile technology.

North Korea has said its satellite launches are part of its peaceful space development program. But many outside experts say ballistic missiles and rockets used in satellite launches share similar bodies, engines and other technology. None of North Korea’s three intercontinental ballistic missile tests in 2017 was conducted at the Sohae site, but observers said the site was used to test engines for ICBMs.

After his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June last year, Trump said Kim told him that North Korea was “already destroying a major missile engine testing site” in addition to committing to “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.

Satellite imagery later showed the North dismantling a rocket engine-testing stand and other facilities at the Sohae site. Last March, South Korea’s spy agency and some U.S. experts said that North Korea was restoring the facilities, raising doubts about whether it was committed to denuclearization.

U.S.-North Korea diplomacy has largely remained deadlocked since the second summit between Trump and Kim in Vietnam in February due to disputes over how much sanctions relief the North must get in return for dismantling its key nuclear complex — a limited disarmament step.

North Korea has since warned that the U.S. must abandon hostile policies and come out with new acceptable proposals by the end of this year or it would take an unspecified new path. In recent months, North Korea has performed a slew of short-range missile and other weapons launches and hinted at lifting its moratorium on nuclear and long-range missiles.

North Korea said the results of Saturday’s test were submitted to the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party. The North said last week that the Central Committee will hold a meeting in late December to discuss unspecified “crucial issues” in line with “the changed situation at home and abroad.”

At the United Nations, a statement released by North Korea’s U.N. ambassador, Kim Song, said Saturday that denuclearization had “already gone out of the negotiation table.”

The statement accused the Trump administration of persistently pursuing a “hostile policy” toward the country “in its attempt to stifle it.” The statement was a response to Wednesday’s condemnation by six European countries of North Korea’s 13 ballistic missile launches since May.

The North Korean diplomat accused the Europeans — France, Germany, Britain, Belgium, Poland and Estonia — of playing “the role of pet dog of the United States in recent months.”

“We regard their behavior as nothing more than a despicable act of intentionally flattering the United States,” the ambassador said.

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Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.



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