North Korea conducts 'very important test' at once-dismantled site

North Korea announced on Sunday that it carried out a “very important test” at its long-range rocket launch site, rebuilt after having partially dismantled it at the start of denuclearization talks with the United States last year, news wires reported.

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 year’s 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 North’s Academy of National Defense 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.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry said in a brief statement later Sunday that South Korea and the United States are closely monitoring activities at the Sohae site and other key North Korean areas. On Saturday, US President Donald 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. Moon’s office also released a similar statement, saying the two leaders had a 30-minute phone conversation at Trump’s request.

After his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June last year, Trump said Kim told him that North Korea was “already destroying a major missile engine testing site” in addition to committing to “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. Satellite imagery later showed the North dismantling a rocket engine-testing stand and other facilities at the Sohae site. Last March, South Korea’s spy agency and some US experts said that North Korea was restoring the facilities, raising doubts about whether it was committed to denuclearization.

US-North Korea diplomacy has largely remained deadlocked since the second summit between Trump and Kim 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.

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