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North Korea intensifies pressure on US as it tries to exact concessions

Pyongyang announces conducting ‘very important test’ -- likely engine test for ICBM

Dec. 8, 2019 - 15:39 By Park Han-na
North Korea has intensified pressure on the United States both in words and action in an apparent attempt to exact concessions from Washington before it returns to the negotiating table for nuclear talks.

On Sunday, the North’s state-run Korea Central News Agency reported that the country had successfully conducted a “very important test” at the Sohae Satellite launching ground Saturday, quoting a statement issued by a spokesman for the Academy of National Defense Science. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un cuts a ribbon during a ceremony for the completion of the Yangdok County Hot Spring Cultural Recreation Center in North Korea in this undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency on Saturday. (KCNA)

“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,” it said, referring to the North’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The three-sentence statement did not elaborate on details of the test.

The Sohae Satellite launching station is also known as the Dongchang-ri site on the North’s western coast, a main facility for developing intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the continental US.

Given that Pyongyang said the test will change the North’s “strategic position,” it is likely to have been an engine test for a new solid fuel for intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies.

North Korea has been developing rocket engines that burn solid fuel, meant to be capable of faster launches compared to liquid fuel.

The North has dismantled some parts of the Dongchang-ri site after its relations with the US improved following the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore in June last year.

In September 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the North Korean ruler signed an agreement to permanently dismantle the Dongchangri engine testing site and launch pad and allow international inspectors to observe the process.

But some signs of recovery at the site have been detected recently as nuclear talks have stalled.

Negotiations between the US and North Korea have been stalemated since a second summit between Trump and Kim broke down in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, failing to narrow a gap between North Korea’s demand for economic sanctions relief and Washington’s demand to first dismantle nuclear and biochemical weapons and missiles.

Working-level talks in Stockholm, Sweden in October also failed to make headway.

Over the weekend, North Korea criticized the Trump administration for dragging its feet on the stalled nuclear talks for the sake of domestic politics, while Trump warned the North against interfering in next year’s US presidential election.

According to the Associated Press, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations Kim Song released a statement criticizing the US’ pursuit of “sustained and substantial dialogue” as a “time-saving trick” to benefit a “domestic political agenda.”

“We do not need to have lengthy talks with the US now and the denuclearization is already gone out of the negotiation table,” he said.

With a series of statements from high-ranking officials, Pyongyang has been urging Washington to put forward measures for security guarantee and sanctions lifting ahead of resumption of denuclearization negotiations.

On Saturday, Trump said he did not think the North Korean leader wanted to interfere in next year’s US presidential election and said he would be surprised if Pyongyang acted in a hostile manner.

“We’ll see about North Korea,” Trump told reporters.

“I’d be surprised if North Korea acted hostilely,” Trump said at the White House. “He knows I have an election coming up. I don’t think he wants to interfere with that, but we’ll have to see ... I think he’d like to see something happen. The relationship is very good, but there is some hostility, there’s no question about it.”

By Park Han-na (