N. Korea tests rocket engine, possibly for ICBM: US officials

WASHINGTON • North Korea has carried out another test of a rocket engine that the US believes could be part of its programme to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

An American official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Thursday that the US assessed that the test, the latest in a series of engine and missile trials this year, could be for the smallest stage of an ICBM rocket engine.

North Korea's state media, which is normally quick to publicise successful missile-related developments, did not carry any reports on the engine test.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae In, who was elected last month on a platform of a more moderate approach to Pyongyang, inspected the test-launch of a ballistic missile yesterday that is being developed by the South's military.

"I believe in dialogue, but dialogue is possible when it's backed by strong defence and engagement policy is possible only when we have security ability that can overwhelm the North," Mr Moon was quoted by his office as saying.

The disclosure of the North's engine test came a day after the US pressed China to exert more economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to help rein in its nuclear and missile programmes during a round of high-level talks in Washington.

China's top diplomat, Mr Yang Jiechi, told US President Donald Trump at the White House that Beijing was willing to "maintain communication and coordination" with Washington to defuse tension on the Korean peninsula, according to a statement yesterday.

The US, meanwhile, is ramping up capabilities to defend itself against the threat from North Korea, staging its first-ever successful test to intercept an incoming ICBM-type missile last month.

But a test on Wednesday of a new capability being developed by the US and Japan to defend against shorter-range missiles failed to hit its target, the US Missile Defence Agency said on Thursday.

Separately, Pyongyang yesterday said the death of US university student Otto Warmbier soon after his return home in a coma was a mystery. It also dismissed accusations that he had died because of torture during his captivity in North Korea as "groundless".

The North's Foreign Ministry spokesman said Mr Warmbier was "a victim of the policy of strategic patience" of former US president Barack Obama whose government never requested his release.

Mr Warmbier, 22, was arrested in January last year while visiting the reclusive country as a tourist and sentenced to 15 years of hard labour for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan from his hotel.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'N. Korea tests rocket engine, possibly for ICBM: US officials'. Print Edition | Subscribe