SEOUL • North Korea said it conducted a "very important test" at its rocket launch site as the country's senior diplomat said denuclearisation was off the negotiating table.
A spokesman for North Korea's Academy of the National Defence Science said Saturday's test was carried out at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, a site that has been used to launch satellites into space in the past. The United Nations bans North Korea from launching satellites, viewing it as a cover for testing ballistic missile technology.
In a statement carried by the state-run Korea Central News Agency yesterday, the spokesman said the test result "will have an important impact on changing the strategic position of the DPRK," referring to his country by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Missile experts said it appeared likely the North Koreans had conducted a static test of a rocket engine, rather than a missile launch, which is usually quickly detected by South Korea and Japan.
"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," said Mr Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States. "This could be a very credible signal of what might await the world after the new year."
Tensions have risen ahead of a year-end deadline set by North Korea, which has called on the US to change its policy of insisting on Pyongyang's unilateral denuclearisation and demanded relief from punishing sanctions
On Saturday, North Korea's Ambassador to the United Nations said denuclearisation was now off the negotiating table with the US and lengthy talks with Washington are not needed. Mr Kim Song, Pyongyang's envoy to the United Nations, dismissed the Trump administration's calls for dialogue as a "time-saving trick" solely for "its domestic political agenda".
Later on Saturday, President Donald Trump stressed his good relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying Mr Kim does not want to "interfere" with his reelection bid for 2020. "He knows I have an election coming up. I don't think he wants to interfere with that, but we will have to see... I think he would like to see something happen. The relationship is very good, but you know, there is certain hostility," Mr Trump told reporters.
During his term, Mr Trump has met the North Korean leader three times in an effort to persuade him to give up nuclear weapons. Saturday's test is the latest in a string of statements and actions from North Korea designed to underscore the seriousness of its year-end deadline.
North Korea has announced it would convene a rare gathering of top ruling party officials later this month and, last Wednesday, state media showed photos of leader Kim taking a second symbolic horse ride on the country's sacred Mount Paektu. Such meetings and propaganda blitzes often come ahead of major announcements from the North Korean authorities.
While North Korea has not specified what its "new path" could be, observers have suggested the launch of a space satellite is a possibility, allowing Pyongyang to demonstrate and test its rocket capabilities without resorting to overt provocation such as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch.
"Such testing is meant to improve military capabilities and to shore up domestic pride and legitimacy," Professor Leif-Eric Easley of Ewha University in Seoul said of Saturday's test. "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," he said.
Mr Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean Navy officer who teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said North Korea may have tested a solid fuel rocket engine, which could allow North Korea to field ICBMs that are easier to hide and faster to deploy. "North Korea has already entered the 'new path' that they talked about," he said.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS