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NKorea Conducts Another Rocket Test    12/14 09:56

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea said Saturday that it successfully 
performed another "crucial test" at its long-range rocket launch site that will 
further strengthen its nuclear deterrent. 

   The test --- the second at the facility in a week, according to North 
Korea's Academy of Defense Science ---  possibly involved technologies to 
improve intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the 
continental United States.

   In a separate statement, Pak Jong Chon, chief of the Korean People's Army's 
general staff, asserted that North Korea has built up "tremendous power" and 
that the findings from the recent tests would be used to develop new weapons to 
allow the country to "definitely and reliably" counter U.S. nuclear threats. 

   The North in recent weeks has been dialing up pressure to coax major 
concessions from the Trump administration as it  approaches an end-of-year 
deadline set by leader Kim Jong Un to salvage faltering nuclear negotiations. 

   The Academy of Defense Science did not specify what was tested on Friday. 
Just days earlier, the North said it conducted a "very important test" at the 
site on the country's northwestern coast, prompting speculation that it 
involved a new engine for either an ICBM or a space launch vehicle. 

   The testing activity and defiant statements suggest that the North is 
preparing to do something to provoke the United States if Washington doesn't 
back down and make concessions to ease sanctions and pressure on Pyongyang in 
deadlocked nuclear negotiations.

   An unnamed spokesman for the academy said scientists received warm 
congratulations from members of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea Central 
Committee who attended the test, which lasted from 10:41 to 10:48 p.m. Friday 
at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, where the North has conducted 
satellite launches and liquid-fuel missile engine tests in recent years. 

   The spokesman said the successful outcome of the latest test, in addition to 
the one on Dec. 7, "will be applied to further bolster up the reliable 
strategic nuclear deterrent of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," 
referring to North Korea's formal name. 

   "Genuine peace can be safeguarded and our development and future be 
guaranteed only when the balance of power is completely ensured. We have stored 
up a tremendous power," Pak said in a statement carried by the North's official 
Korean Central News Agency. 

   "We should be ready to cope with political and military provocations of the 
hostile forces and be familiar with both dialogue and confrontation," Pak said. 
"Our army is fully ready to thoroughly carry out any decision of the supreme 
leader with action. ... U.S. and other hostile forces will spend the year-end 
in peace only when they hold off any words and deeds rattling us." 

   Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military officer and currently an 
analyst from Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said the North 
mentioning its nuclear deterrent makes it clear it tested a new engine for an 
ICBM, not a satellite-launch vehicle. Kim said it was notable that North Korea 
announced the specific length of the test, which he said possibly signals a 
larger liquid-fuel ICBM engine. 

   North Korea's current ICBMs, including the Hwasong-15, are built with first 
stages that are powered by a pair of engines that experts say are modeled after 
Russian designs. When the North first tested the engine in 2016, it said the 
test lasted for 200 seconds and demonstrated a thrust of 80 tons-force. 

   The North Korean statement came a day before Stephen Biegun, the U.S. 
special representative for North Korea, was to arrive in South Korea for 
discussions with South Korean officials over the nuclear diplomacy. It was 
unclear whether Biegun would attempt contact with North Korean officials at the 
inter-Korean border, which has often been used as a diplomatic venue, or 
whether such an effort would be successful. 

   During a provocative run of weapons tests in 2017, Kim Jong Un conducted 
three flight tests of ICBMs that demonstrated potential range to reach deep 
into the U.S. mainland, raising tensions and triggering verbal warfare with 
President Donald Trump as they exchanged crude insults and threats of nuclear 
annihilation. 

   Experts say that the North would need further tests to establish the 
missile's performance and reliability, such as improving its accuracy and 
ensuring that the warheads survive the harsh conditions of atmospheric reentry. 

   Relations between Kim and Trump became cozier in 2018 after Kim initiated 
diplomacy that led to their first summit in June that year in Singapore, where 
they issued a vague statement on a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, without 
describing when or how it would occur. 

   But negotiations faltered after the United States rejected North Korean 
demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of the 
North's nuclear capabilities at Kim's second summit with Trump in Vietnam in 
February.

   Trump and Kim met for a third time in June at the border between North and 
South Korea and agreed to resume talks. But an October working-level meeting in 
Sweden broke down over what the North Koreans described as the Americans' "old 
stance and attitude."

   Kim, who unilaterally suspended nuclear and intercontinental ballistic 
missile tests last year during talks with Washington and Seoul, has said North 
Korea could seek a "new path" if the United States persists with sanctions and 
pressure against the North. 

   North Korea has also conducted 13 rounds of ballistic missile and rocket 
artillery tests since May, and has hinted at lifting its moratorium on nuclear 
and long-range missile tests if the Trump administration fails to make 
substantial concessions before the new year.

   Some experts doubt that Kim would revive the tensions of 2017 by restarting 
nuclear and ICBM tests, which would cross a metaphorical "red line" and risk 
shattering his hard-won diplomacy with Washington. They say Kim is likely to 
pressure Trump with military activities that pose less of a direct threat to 
the U.S. and by bolstering a united front with Beijing and Moscow. Both are the 
North's allies and have called for the U.N. Security Council to consider easing 
sanctions on Pyongyang to help nuclear negotiations move forward. 

   Saturday's news of the test came after U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft 
criticized the North's ballistic testing activity during a U.N. Security 
Council meeting on Wednesday, saying that the tests were "deeply 
counterproductive" and risk closing the door on prospects for negotiating 
peace. 

   She also cited North Korean hints of "a resumption of serious provocations," 
which she said would mean they could launch space vehicles using long-range 
ballistic missile technology or test ICBMs, "which are designed to attack the 
continental United States with nuclear weapons."

   While Craft said that the Trump administration is "prepared to be flexible" 
and take concrete, parallel steps toward an agreement on resuming talks, North 
Korea described her comments as a "hostile provocation" and warned that 
Washington may have squandered its chance at salvaging the fragile nuclear 
diplomacy.


(KR)

 
 
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