North Korea tests rocket engine, possibly for ICBM, say US officials

WASHINGTON, June 22 (Reuters) - North Korea has carried out another test of a rocket engine that the United States believes could be part of its program to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile, a U.S. official told Reuters on Thursday.

The United States assessed that the test, the latest in a series of engine and missile trials this year, could be for the smallest stage of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) rocket engine, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A second U.S. official also confirmed the test but did not provide additional details on the type of rocket component that was being tested or whether it fit into the ICBM program.

One official said he believed the test had taken place within the past 24 hours.

North Korea's state media, which is normally quick to publicize successful missile-related developments, did not carry any reports on the engine test.

RELATED: North Korea's May 2017 missile test

17 PHOTOS
North Korea's May 2017 missile test
See Gallery
North Korea's May 2017 missile test
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man watches a television screen showing Moon Jae-in, South Korea's president, during a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A foreigner walks past a television screen showing an image of Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea, center, during a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts with members of the Korean People's Army in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A woman stands in front of a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) waving to the Korean People's Army construction department officials in Pyongyang. / AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS / STR / South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT ---EDITORS NOTE--- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
The long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) is launched during a test in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A man watches a television screen showing Moon Jae-in, South Korea's president, during a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts during the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) test launch in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OUT.
A man watches a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast on North Korea's ballistic missile launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday, May 14, 2017. North Korea fired a ballistic missile early Sunday, its seventh such test this year, just days after South Korea elected a president�who vowed to engage with�Kim Jong Un's regime to defuse tensions over its nuclear weapons program. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

South Korean officials did not have details about the reported test and declined to comment on the possible nature of the engine.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was elected last month on a platform of a more moderate approach to Pyongyang including dialog to ease tension, inspected the test-launch of a ballistic missile on Friday that is being developed by the South's military.

"I believe in dialog, but dialog is possible when it's backed by strong defense and engagement policy is possible only when we have security ability that can overwhelm the North," Moon was quoted by his office as saying at the test site.

Moon's office did not disclose the details of the missile being tested, but South Korea has been working to develop ballistic missiles with a range of 800 km (500 miles), a voluntary cap under an agreement with the United States.

The United States has tried for years to discourage South Korea from developing longer-range ballistic missiles in keeping with the Missile Technology Control Regime, a voluntary international arms-control pact.

CHINA PRESSED TO EXERT PRESSURE

The disclosure of the North's engine test came a day after the United States pressed China to exert more economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to help rein in its nuclear and missile programs during a round of high-level talks in Washington.

Moon told Reuters in an exclusive interview on Thursday that strong new sanctions would be needed if the North conducted a new nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile test and that he planned to call on Chinese President Xi Jinping to play a greater role in reining in Pyongyang's arms program.

SEE ALSO: North Korea says Warmbier's death a 'mystery to us as well'

U.S. President Donald Trump has warned that a "major, major conflict" with North Korea is possible over its weapons programs, although U.S. officials say tougher sanctions, not military force, are the preferred option.

China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, told Trump in a meeting at the White House that Beijing was willing to "maintain communication and coordination" with the United States in an effort to defuse tension on the Korean peninsula, according to a statement from China's Foreign Ministry on Friday.

The head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress last month that North Korea, if left unchecked, was on an "inevitable" path to obtaining a nuclear-armed missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland.

However, experts say Pyongyang could still be years away from have a reliable ICBM capability.

The continental United States is around 5,600 miles (9,000 km) from North Korea. ICBMs have a minimum range of about 3,400 miles (5,500 km), but some are designed to travel 6,200 miles (10,000 km) or farther.

Any military solution to the North Korea crisis would be "tragic on an unbelievable scale," Trump's defense secretary, Jim Mattis, said last month.

RELATED: Inside North Korea's secretive missile program

11 PHOTOS
Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
See Gallery
Inside North Korea's secretive missile program
A missile is carried by a military vehicle during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
Engineers check the base of Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
A North Korean scientist looks at a monitor showing the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, at the satellite control centre of the Korean Committee of Space Technology on the outskirts of Pyongyang April 11, 2012. North Korea said on Wednesday it was injecting fuel into a long-range rocket ahead of a launch condemned by its neighbours and the West. The launch is set to take place between Thursday and next Monday and has prompted neighbours such as the Philippines to re-route their air traffic. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
North Korean soldiers salute in a military vehicle carrying a missile during a parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of a truce in the 1950-1953 Korean War, at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang July 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY ANNIVERSARY)
Ko Yun-hwa (L), Administrator of Korea Meteorological Administration, points at where seismic waves observed in South Korea came from, during a media briefing at Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A sales assistant watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on North Korea's nuclear test, in Seoul, January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Workers construct a new nuclear reactor in the North Korean village of Kumho in this file photo taken August 7, 2002. The United States urged North Korea December 21, 2002 not to restart a nuclear reactor suspected of being used to make weapons-grade plutonium. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that North Korea had disabled surveillance devices the agency had placed at the five-megawatt Nyongbyong reactor. REUTERS/Lee Jae-won/File Photo LJW/RCS/AA
A passenger walks past a television report on North Korea's nuclear test at a railway station in Seoul February 12, 2013. North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Tuesday, South Korea's defence ministry said, after seismic activity measuring 4.9 magnitude was registered by the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicentre of the seismic activity, which was only one km below the Earth's surface, was close to the North's known nuclear test site. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A scientist stands beside the Kwangmyongsong-3 application satellite, to be put onto the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang April 8, 2012. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (NORTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The United States, meanwhile, is ramping up capabilities to defend against the threat from North Korea, staging its first-ever successful test to intercept an incoming ICBM-type missile in May.

But a test on June 21 of a new capability being developed by the United States and Japan to defend against shorter-range missiles failed to hit its target, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said on Thursday.

It was the second such test of the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor, which is being developed by Raytheon. The previous intercept test, conducted in February, had been successful. (Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Christine Kim and Jack Kim in SEOUL and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Lincoln Feast and Paul Tait)

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.