Kim Jong Un presided over a rocket en­gine test “of his­toric sig­nif­i­cance,” ac­cord­ing to North Korean state me­dia.

Move co­in­cides with Sec­re­tary of State Tiller­son’s visit to China

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY ANNA FI­FIELD anna.fi­field@wash­post.com

TOKYO — Kim Jong Un has presided over a rocket en­gine test “of his­toric sig­nif­i­cance,” North Korean state me­dia said Sun­day, a test that co­in­cided with U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son’s visit to neigh­bor­ing China.

The North Korean leader de­clared “that the whole world will soon wit­ness what event­ful sig­nif­i­cance the great vic­tory won to­day car­ries,” the re­port said, declar­ing Satur­day as the “March 18 rev­o­lu­tion” be­cause of the “great leap­ing for­ward” in North Korea’s rocket in­dus­try.

The Kim regime has a his­tory of mak­ing ex­ag­ger­ated claims and bel­liger­ent threats that it can­not back up, but the lat­est boast comes amid height­ened ten­sions in the re­gion.

North Korea has been mak­ing steady and ob­serv­able progress with its mis­sile pro­gram, and Tiller­son said Fri­day that “all op­tions,” in­clud­ing mil­i­tary ones, were on the ta­ble to stop it.

The rocket en­gine that North Korea tested ap­peared to be pow­ered with liq­uid fuel, said Melissa Han­ham, a re­searcher at the James Martin Cen­ter for Nonpro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies, rather than the solid fuel that the regime’s en­gi­neers have been work­ing on re­cently. Liq­uid fuel rock­ets are much eas­ier to spot with satel­lites be­cause they re­quire more out­door prepa­ra­tion.

“There is noth­ing about this rocket en­gine it­self that makes me more ter­ri­fied, but taken as a whole, it’s pretty clear that they are try­ing to give us proof of their grow­ing mis­sile pro­gram,” Han­ham said.

Kim said in his New Year’s ad­dress in Jan­uary that North Korea had “en­tered the fi­nal stage of prepa­ra­tion for the test launch of in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile.” This ICBM would be aimed at reach­ing the U.S. main­land.

Since then, North Korea has fired a medium-range mis­sile that ap­peared to show sig­nif­i­cant tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances. This month, it launched four mis­siles, three of which landed within Ja­pan’s ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone.

While the mis­siles them­selves weren’t new, the tac­tic was, an­a­lysts said. The si­mul­ta­ne­ous fir­ings ap­peared de­signed to out­smart the Ter­mi­nal High-Al­ti­tude Area De­fense an­timis­sile bat­tery that the United States is de­ploy­ing to South Korea, which would have dif­fi­culty shoot­ing down four tar­gets at once.

The rocket en­gine tested Satur­day was de­vel­oped by the North’s Academy of the Na­tional De­fense Sci­ence and marked the start of a “Juche-based rocket in­dus­try,” the Korean Cen­tral News Agency re­port said, al­lud­ing to the North Korean con­cept of “self-re­liance.” It was de­vel­oped with­out “de­pen­dence on the tech­nol­ogy of other coun­tries,” KCNA said.

The test marks the lat­est chal­lenge to the United States from Kim’s regime. In a stop in Seoul on Fri­day, Tiller­son said that “all op­tions are on the ta­ble” for deal­ing with North Korea and that although the United States does not want a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion, it would re­sort to mil­i­tary ac­tions if nec­es­sary.

A lit­tle later, be­fore Tiller­son was to leave for Bei­jing, Pres­i­dent Trump tweeted: “North Korea is be­hav­ing very badly. They have been ‘play­ing’ the United States for years. China has done lit­tle to help!”

On Satur­day, China urged the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­main “cool­headed” about North Korea and not to turn its back on di­a­logue.

“No mat­ter what hap­pens, we have to stay com­mit­ted to diplo­matic means as a way to seek peace­ful set­tle­ment,” Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi said. “We hope all par­ties, in­clud­ing our friends from the United States, could size up the sit­u­a­tion in a cool­headed and com­pre­hen­sive fash­ion and ar­rive at a wise de­ci­sion.”

For his part, Tiller­son struck a more con­cil­ia­tory tone in Bei­jing than he had a day ear­lier in Seoul, stress­ing that Bei­jing and Wash­ing­ton share a “com­mon view” that North Korea must be stopped.

Mis­sile ex­perts are wait­ing for higher-res­o­lu­tion photos of the rocket en­gine from North Korea’s state me­dia for clues about the tech­nol­ogy. The en­gine ap­peared smaller than one tested in April, and the color of the flame would pro­vide clues about the type of fuel used, said Han­ham, the nonpro­lif­er­a­tion ex­pert.

Its smaller size could mean that the rocket was built for a smaller mis­sile — or for the sec­ond stage of a big­ger mis­sile, like an ICBM, she said.

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