North conducts 'important test' at rocket site

Top News | Agence France-Presse 9 Dec 2019

North Korea says it has carried out a "very important test" at its space launch center as Pyongyang ramps up pressure on Washington over stalled nuclear talks.

The announcement yesterday of the test at the Sohae satellite launch site on Saturday came hours after US President Donald Trump said he would be "surprised" by any hostile action from the North.

"A very important test took place at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground on the afternoon of December 7, 2019," a spokesman for North Korea's Academy of the National Defence Science said.

The result of the test will have an "important effect" on changing the "strategic position" of North Korea, he said.

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

Satellite imagery taken on December 5 showed a large container box at the site that was "a decent indicator of an impending engine test," Jeffrey Lewis of the US-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies said ahead of the North's statement.

Rocket engines are easily repurposed for use in missiles and the international community has called Pyongyang's space program a fig leaf for weapons tests.

North Korea dismantled the test stand at Sohae in 2018 but reassembled it this year, Lewis said, adding: "Still, we had not seen any activity at the test stand" until now.

"It is clear that this is one more sign that North Korea is conducting more missile-related activities as Kim Jong Un's end-of-year deadline for sanctions relief approaches," he said.

A senior US official said: "We have seen the reports of a test and are coordinating closely with allies and partners."

It comes as Pyongyang is ramping up pressure ahead of its December 31 deadline for the US to propose a new offer to kickstart stalled nuclear talks.

Hours before North Korea announced the test, Trump had emphasized his "very good relationship" with Kim.

"Well, we'll see about North Korea. I'd be surprised if North Korea acted hostilely," he said. "[Kim] knows I have an election coming up. I don't think he wants to interfere with that. But we'll have to see."

Following his first summit with Kim in June 2018, Trump said Kim had agreed to destroy "a major missile engine testing site," without naming the facility.

Kim then agreed to close the Sohae site during a summit last year with South Korean President Moon Jae In in Pyongyang as part of trust-building measures.

Kim has held three meetings with Trump since June 2018 but little progress has been made in efforts toward denuclearization.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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