North Korea conducts ‘crucial test’ at Sohae launch site

SEOUL: North Korea has conducted another “crucial test” at its Sohae satellite launch site, state media reported on Saturday, as nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington remain stalled with a deadline approaching. The announcement comes a day before US Special Envoy on North Korea Stephen Biegun is set to arrive in Seoul for a three-day visit, and after the United States tested a medium-range ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean on Thursday. “Another crucial test was successfully conducted at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground from 22:41 to 22:48 on December 13,” a spokesman for the North’s National Academy of Defence Science said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

The “research successes” will be “applied to further bolstering up the reliable strategic nuclear deterrent” of North Korea, the spokesman added. The statement did not provide further details on the test. Sohae, on North Korea’s northwest coast, is ostensibly a facility designed for putting satellites into orbit. But Pyongyang has carried out several rocket launches there that were condemned by the US and others as disguised long-range ballistic missile tests. The North is banned from firing ballistic missiles under UN Security Council resolutions, and rocket engines can be easily repurposed for use in missiles.

Frustrated by the lack of sanctions relief after three summits with President Donald Trump, North Korea has vowed an ominous “Christmas gift” if the US does not come up with concessions by the end of the year.
Some analysts have suggested the North may be referring to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Earlier this month, the North announced it conducted what it called a “very important test” at the same site in Sohae.
“It’s very likely that the North is going to fire something on Christmas day, and they may call it a rocket system when it actually is an ICBM,” Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and researcher in Seoul, said.
“The tests at Sohae can be seen as a form of preparation for the launch — whatever it will be — on December 25.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had agreed to shutter the Sohae site during a summit last year with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang as part of trust-building measures. — AFP