WASHINGTON - North Korea ground-tested a new high-thrust rocket engine, the country’s official news agency, KCNA, said Sunday.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the test was successful and “emphasized that the world will soon witness the great significance of the epoch-making victory we achieved today,” KCNA reported.
The test consisted of firing the rocket engine while it was held in place on the ground, not powering a missile. The ignition took place at the Tongchang-ri rocket launch station near the North’s border with China, according to KCNA, which said Kim went to the site at dawn, “mounted an observation post and gave the order to start the test.”
From this same region, Pyongyang launched a satellite into space in February 2016 using banned intercontinental ballistic missile technology.
Possible ICBM engine
The state news agency quoted Kim as saying the new “high-thrust engine would help consolidate the scientific and technological foundation to match the world-level satellite delivery capability in the field of outer space development.” This also indicated the engine being tested was likely intended for use in long-range missiles.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphasized Saturday during his visit to China the need for a new approach to deal with the growing North Korean nuclear threat, and stressed the United States is willing to consider “all options” to rein in North Korea’s aggressive military policies.
Analysts say this could range up to some form of limited military action, and would certainly confront North Korea more directly that the diplomatic approach backed by former President Barack Obama, whose policy in the region was known as one of “strategic patience.”
Tensions at ‘dangerous level’
In South Korea Friday, Tillerson said: “Let me be very clear, the Policy of Strategic Patience has ended. We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.”
Earlier this month, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan in response to annual U.S.-South Korea military drills, which the North sees as a preparation for war.
Three of the missiles flew about 1,000 kilometers and landed in Japanese waters, the Pentagon said. U.S. officials said the weapons were medium-range rockets that did not pose a threat to North America.
VOA’s White House correspondent Steve Herman, Brian Padden in Seoul and Carla Babb at the Pentagon contributed to this report.