North Korea tests rocket engine linked to nuclear missile programme

News of the test came one day after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged China, Pyongyang's sole ally, to put more pressure on the North to rein in its atomic weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

This photo carried by North Korea's state news agency on March 19, 2017, shows the North's ground test of a new high-thrust rocket engine.

One of the tests, which took place at the Sohae satellite launch facility, was hailed as a "great leap forward" by North Korea state media.

Citing unnamed USA officials, Reuters reports that Pyongyang may have been testing the last stage engine of an ICBM.

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.

South Korea too did not have any details of the reported test, and declined to comment.

The test follows about a dozen missile launches this year, as well as three engine tests in March.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006, including two a year ago, the report said.

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

South Korea's unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, reiterated an assessment by military authorities here that the North is continuing activities aimed at advancing its missile capabilities.

The continental United States is around 5,600 miles (9,000 km) from North Korea.

The news of the North's latest rocket engine test, possibly for the second or third stage of a missile, came amid concern that it has almost obtained full technology for an ICBM capable of hitting the USA mainland. In September 2016, Pyongyang carried out another nuclear test, while more than 20 missiles were test-fired during the year.

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 US Missile Defense Agency said on Thursday. According to the report, the test was conducted on Wednesday near the North's Dongchangri missile test site.

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