North Korea has reportedly carried out a “very important” test at its Sohae satellite launch site, a rocket testing ground that US officials once said North Korea had promised to close.
The test, reported by state news agency KCNA, comes as North Korea has warned it could take a “new path” amid stalled denuclearisation talks with the US and as its year-end deadline nears.
The KCNA report called it a “successful test of great significance” but did not specify what was tested.
South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff, which usually issues alerts if a missile is seen launching from North Korea, declined to comment.
Analysts have said the site has never before been used to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, but it has been used to test missile engines. Past satellite launches have helped scuttle talks with the US.
Missile experts said it appeared likely the North Koreans had conducted a static test of a rocket engine, rather than a missile launch.
Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow with the Federation of American Scientists, said on Twitter: “This is likely a ground-based engine test at the Sohae test stand. This is not a launch.” He added: “We’ve seen several indicators over the last few months suggesting that a space launch might be what they’re working up to.”
KCNA reported: “The results of the recent important test will have an important effect on changing the strategic position of the DPRK once again in the near future.”
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.
Donald Trump told reporters in June 2018 after his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that North Korea had pledged to dismantle one of its missile installations, which US officials later identified as Sohae.
Commercial satellite imagery captured on Thursday by Planet Labs showed new activity at the Sohae satellite launching station and the presence of a large shipping container, CNN reported, with analysts suggesting it indicated a test was imminent.