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Last Updated : Dec 09, 2019 04:07 PM IST | Source: PTI

North Korea believed to test new rocket engine to provoke US

Whatever it was, the North Korean announcement suggests that the country is preparing to do something to provoke the United States if Washington doesn't back down and make concessions in deadlocked nuclear negotiations.

A day after North Korea said it had performed a “very important test” at its long-range rocket launch site, there is wide speculation that it involved a new engine for either a space launch vehicle or a long-range missile.

Whatever it was, the North Korean announcement suggests that the country is preparing to do something to provoke the United States if Washington doesn't back down and make concessions in deadlocked nuclear negotiations.

A look at the North Korean test, which comes as a year-end deadline set by North Korea for the US to salvage the nuclear talks is approaching.

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According to the North's Academy of National Defence Science, the test was conducted on Saturday at its Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in the northwest, where North Korea has conducted banned satellite launches and missile engine tests in recent years.

When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in last year, he promised to dismantle this facility, better known as the Tongchang-ri site outside North Korea, as part of steps toward disarmament.

The latest test lends credence to widespread skepticism about Kim's seriousness in his commitment to denuclearisation that he repeated during meetings with Trump and Moon.

While no rocket or weapons launch from North Korea was detected over the weekend, many foreign experts speculate that North Korea tested a new high-thrust engine, which is needed to launch bigger, more powerful rockets.

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute, tweeted that satellite images “suggest North Korea conducted a rocket engine test at Sohae.”

“Vehicles and objects appear on December 7 to conduct the test. They are mostly gone on December 8, but the ground appears to have been disturbed by the exhaust from the test,” he said.

Analyst Kim Dae-young at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy in South Korea said the test is likely related to a space launch vehicle, not an ICBM. He said North Korea would not conduct a long-range missile launch or nuclear test unless it completely abandons talks with the US.

The fact that North Korea hasn't revealed what kind of test it conducted also indicates the country is still interested in diplomacy with the United States. “If they don't have talks with the U.S. in their mind, they would have disclosed photos (of the test) right away,” Kim said.

Shin Beomchul, an analyst from Seoul's Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said the test is likely to be for a new solid fuel engine for an ICBM or a space launch vehicle. Either would allow North Korea to pressure the Trump administration for concessions without testing an ICBM or a nuclear device, which is where Washington apparently draws a red line, Shin said.

The use of solid fuel offers greater mobility for missiles and rockets and reduces the amount of launch preparation time. All space launch vehicles and ICBMs that North Korea has publicly tested used liquid propellants. They include the rockets used in two successful satellite launches in 2012 and 2016 and ICBMs used in three flight tests in 2017.

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First Published on Dec 9, 2019 03:58 pm
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