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N Korea conducts 'very important test'
NORTH Korea said on Sunday that it carried out a "very important test" at its long-range rocket launch site that it reportedly rebuilt after having partially dismantled it after entering denuclearisation talks with the United States last year.
The announcement comes amid dimming prospects for a resumption of negotiations, with the North warning that it would seek "a new way" if it fails to get major US concessions by year's end. North Korea has said that its resumption of nuclear and long-range missile tests depends on the United States.
Saturday's test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground will have "an important effect on changing the strategic position of (North Korea) once again in the near future", an unidentified spokesman from the North's Academy of National Defense Science said in a statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
North Korea didn't say what the test included. Analyst Kim Dong-yub at Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies said that North Korea likely tested for the first time a solid-fuel engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The use of solid fuel increases a weapon's mobility and reduces the amount of launch preparation time. The long-range rockets that North Korea used in either ICBM launches or satellite liftoffs in recent years all used liquid propellants.
Seoul's defence minister said later on Sunday that South Korea and the United States are closely monitoring activities at the Sohae site and other key North Korean areas.
On Saturday, President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in discussed developments related to North Korea and the two leaders committed to continue close communication, the White House said in a statement. Mr Moon's office also released a similar statement, saying the two leaders had a 30-minute phone conversation at Mr Trump's request.
Saturday's test "is meant to improve military capabilities and to shore up domestic pride and legitimacy", said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. "With the activity at Sohae, Pyongyang is also trying to raise international concerns that it may intensify provocations and walk away from denuclearisation talks next year."
The Sohae launching centre in Tongchang-ri is where the North has carried out banned satellite launches in recent years.
After North Korea opened nuclear talks with the US last year, Washington and Seoul said Pyongyang had dismantled a rocket engine-testing facility at its Tongchang-ri site as part of disarmament steps that include closing the country's underground nuclear testing site and suspending ICBM and nuclear tests. But South Korea's spy agency and some US experts said in March that North Korea was restoring the facility.
US-North Korea diplomacy largely remains deadlocked since the second summit between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam in February due to disputes over how much sanctions relief the North must get in return for dismantling its key nuclear complex - a limited disarmament step. AP