The nation reportedly rebuilt a secluded satellite launch site that was meant to be dismantled under the terms of talks with the US. The renewed activity at the site has escalated the resumption of nuclear and long-range missile tests from Kim’s totalitarian hermit kingdom. The latest test took place at the Sohae satellite launch site, which the US once said Mr Kim had promised to close.
Missile experts said it appeared likely the North Koreans had conducted a static test of a rocket engine, rather than a missile launch, which are usually quickly detected by neighbouring South Korea and Japan.
Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, said: “If it is indeed a static engine test for a new solid or liquid fuel missile, it is yet another loud signal that the door for diplomacy is quickly slamming, if it isn’t already.
“This could be a very credible signal of what might await the world after the New Year.”
On Saturday North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations said denuclearisation was now off the negotiating table with the United States and lengthy talks with Washington are not needed.
North Korean news agency KCNA reported: “The results of the recent important test will have an important effect on changing the strategic position of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) once again in the near future.”
Observers have suggested the test could be used as a build up to the eventual launch of a space satellite, allowing Pyongyang to demonstrate and test its rocket capabilities without the overt military provocation inherently linked an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said: “Such testing is meant to improve military capabilities and to shore up domestic pride and legitimacy.
“North Korea is avoiding violations of its long-range missile test moratorium for now, but it is still improving the propulsion and precision of its missiles so that it can claim a credible nuclear deterrent.
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Mr Trump made pursuing diplomacy with North Korea a centre-piece of his foreign policy agenda in 2018 but has failed to extract significant concessions on denuclearisation despite holding two summits with leader Kim Jong-un and even setting foot in North Korea.
Despite facing a host of UN and other sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes, North Korea earlier this year started testing of short-range ballistic missiles.
And earlier this week it renewed verbal attacks on Mr Trump for the first time in over a year after he said the US reserved the right to use military force against the country.
Analysts believe that North Korea could launch a space satellite if it does not obtain concessions from the US.
This would allow it to test and show off its rocket capabilities in a less provocative way than launching a long-range ballistic missile.
US President Donald Trump said he would be “be very disappointed” if the reports of rebuilding were true.
In recent weeks, media reports indicated a high number of US military surveillance flights over the Korean peninsula, suggesting growing expectation of North Korean tests.
Commercial satellite imagery captured on Thursday by Planet Labs showed new activity at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station and the presence of a large shipping container, CNN reported, with analysts suggesting it indicated a test was imminent.