North Korea tested an engine for its new long-range missiles one day before its third nuclear test last week, government sources here said Sunday.
A U.S. think tank also said Pyongyang was preparing a launchpad that could pave the way to firing a long-range missile.
Pyongyang carried out a function test of the engine for its long-range “KN-08” missiles on the Dongchang-ri launch site in North Pyongan Province on Monday, according to multiple government sources.
It was one day before the communist country defied international warnings by detonating what it calls a miniaturized atomic device, drawing a chorus of worldwide condemnation and prompting the United Nations Security Council to start work on “appropriate measures” against the North’s latest provocation. The North also conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
“It appears that North Korea conducted the engine test aimed at extending the range of the KN-08 missile to over 5,000 kilometers,”said a source. He declined to be identified.
“If the North decides the test successful, it is expected to operationally deploy the new long-range rocket,” he added.
North Korea unveiled six units of the mobile missile last April to celebrate the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung, its founding father and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un. Experts assumed that the missile measuring 2 meters in diameter and 18 meters in length could carry a nuclear warhead, while the North has yet to conduct a test-firing.
“What deserves attention is that the North carried out the engine test despite being aware of the fact that the U.S. surveillance satellite would detect the move,” said another source.
“The engine test right before its third nuclear test would be intended to intensify its threat to the U.S. and its allies,” he added.
North Korea has been making good on its threat to the international community following its nuclear test, warning that it is ready to conduct additional nuclear tests and can acquire intercontinental ballistic missiles “to counter hostile forces and bolster its self-defense capabilities.”
Seoul has been keeping close tabs on the possibility that the North may launch the long-range rocket if the U.N. Security Council slaps tougher sanctions on the North for its latest atomic test, according to military officials.
38 North, a blog of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said Thursday it had analyzed satellite photos that it said showed possible assistance from Iran at the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground in northeastern North Korea.
38 North said a commercial satellite photograph taken on January 5 showed “important progress” since the area was hit with typhoons last year and indicated activity that was consistent with preparations for a launch.
But the website said there was not enough evidence to support speculation that North Korea could raise the stakes by testing its KN-08, a new missile with potential intercontinental range first displayed in a parade in April.
The website said that North Korea likely was preparing to test much larger rockets by the time the site was completed in 2016.
Meanwhile, the United States on Friday called on North Korea not to take any further provocative steps.
Asked about media reports that North Korea, also known as the DPRK, has told China it is preparing further nuclear tests, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said such moves would just “lead to more isolation.”
“The United States calls on the DPRK to refrain from additional provocative actions that would violate its international obligations and run counter to its commitments,” she told journalists.
U.N. Security Council resolutions insist North Korea should not carry out any further nuclear tests, or face further global sanctions.
There was global outrage after Pyongyang on Tuesday defiantly carried out its third nuclear test, saying it was responding to U.S. “hostility” after the U.N. Security Council condemned its last missile launch two months ago.
“The DPRK is not going to achieve anything in terms of the health, wealth, safety, (or) future of its own people by these kinds of continued provocative actions,” Nuland said.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, speaking aboard Air Force One, also stressed that Pyongyang should abide by UN resolutions.
“We encourage the North Koreans to live up to their international obligations, abandon their nuclear program and work with the rest of the international community to become a responsible member of the international community,” he said.
European Union officials said Friday the EU will tighten sanctions on North Korea to curb trade in gold and diamonds and crack down on financial links,.
Diplomats have agreed on a new list of sanctions which will be formally approved by EU foreign ministers on Monday. Diplomats from Britain and several other EU countries with embassies in North Korea are also expected to show their displeasure by boycotting Saturday’s celebrations of the birth of late leader Kim Jong-il, one EU diplomat said.
(From news reports)