|This screen grab taken from DPRK's broadcaster KCTV on March 7, 2017 shows ballistic missiles being launced during a military drill from an undisclosed location in the DPRK. (Handout / KCTV / AFP)|
SEOUL - Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) latest rocket-engine test showed "meaningful" progress, the Republic of Korea (ROK) said on Monday, while an analyst said it was a dangerous step towards DPRK's goal of developing a rocket that could hit the United States.
DPRK's KCNA news agency said on Sunday the engine would help the country achieve world-class satellite-launch capability, indicating a new type of rocket engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile.
This was a comprehensive test for the first-stage rocket for an ICBM, and that is why it was dangerousKim Dong-yub, an analyst at Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies
DPRK's announcement of a successful engine test came as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Beijing at the end of his first visit to Asia for talks dominated by concern about DPRK's nuclear and missile programmes.
"Through this test, it is found that engine function has made meaningful progress but further analysis is needed for exact thrust and possible uses," Lee Jin-woo, deputy spokesman for the ROK's defence ministry, told a regular briefing.
DPRK's state-run media reported that leader Kim Jong-un had hailed the successful test of a new high-thrust engine at its rocket launch station as "a new birth" of its rocket industry.
Lee said the test featured a main engine supported by four supplementary engines.
However, he did not elaborate on the progress the test showed the DPRK had made, nor comment on whether the engine could be used for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), saying ROK's military was conducting analysis.
US President Donald Trump told reporters he held meetings on the DPRK at the weekend at his Florida resort. While he did not refer specifically to the rocket-engine test, he said Kim Jong-un was "acting very, very badly".
An analyst of ROK said the test was an ominous development.
"This was a comprehensive test for the first-stage rocket for an ICBM, and that is why it was dangerous," said Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies.
"It appears that North Korea has worked out much of its development of the first-stage rocket booster."
The DPRK has conducted five nuclear tests and a series of missile launches in defiance of UN sanctions, and is believed by experts and government officials to be working to develop nuclear-warhead missiles that could reach the United States.
DPKR's leader Kim said in January his country was close to test-launching an ICBM. That would put parts of the United States in range.
Last week, Tillerson issued the Trump administration's starkest warning yet to the DPRK, saying in Seoul that a military response would be "on the table" if it took action to threaten ROK and US forces.
No formal agreements were announced during Tillerson's visit to China although the two sides said they would work together to try to make the DPRK take "a different course".
China has called for a dual-track approach on the DPRK, urging it to suspend its tests and the United States and the ROK to suspend military exercises so both sides can return to talks.
Beijing has also been infuriated by the deployment of an advanced US anti-missile system in the ROK, which it says will both harm China's own security and do nothing to ease tensions.
China says the system's powerful radar will extend into the country's northeast and potentially track Chinese missile launches, and maybe even intercept them. Russia also opposes the system, for the same reasons.