SEOUL: 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 at the start of denuclearisation talks with the United States last year.

The announcement comes amid dimming prospects for a resumption of negotiations, with the North threatening to seek a new way if it fails to get major US concessions by years end. North Korea has said 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 Norths Academy of National Defence Science said in a statement, carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea didn’t say what the test included. Kim Dong-yub, an analyst 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.

The use of solid fuel increases a weapons 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.

CNN reported that a new satellite image indicated North Korea may be preparing to resume testing engines used to power satellite launchers and intercontinental ballistic missiles at the site.

Seoul’s Defence Ministry said in a brief statement that South Korea and the United States are closely monitoring activities at the Sohae site and other key North Korean areas.

President Donald Trump reacted to the development by saying that North Korea must denuclearise.

Kim Jong Un is too smart and has far too much to lose, everything actually, if he acts in a hostile way,” Trump tweeted.

North Korea, under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, has tremendous economic potential, but it must denuclearise as promised,” he said.

On Saturday, Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in discussed developments related to North Korea, and the two leaders committed to continuing close communication, the White House said in a statement. Moons office also released a similar statement, saying the two leaders had a 30-minute phone conversation at Trumps request.

The North Korean 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.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2019