Rouhani: Iran to continue expanding military might, missile work – TV

FILE PHOTO: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani exits following a news conference on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid/File Photo

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that Iran was determined to expand its military power and ballistic missile program despite mounting pressure from hostile countries to curb Iran’s defensive work, state TV reported.

“We have not asked and will not ask for permission to develop different types of … missiles and will continue our path and our military power,” Rouhani said in a speech at Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) square, where tens of thousands gathered to mark the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution.

Rouhani also vowed Iran would defeat U.S. sanctions, reimposed after President Donald Trump withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers last year.

“The Iranian people have and will have some economic difficulties (due to the sanctions) but we will overcome the problems by helping each other,” Rouhani said.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafeddin; Editing by Alison Williams, Editing by William Maclean)

U.S. sees strong shared interests with European Union on Iran concerns

FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside an Iranian flag in the Persian Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi//File Pho

WASHINGTON/BERLIN (Reuters) – The United States on Sunday said it hopes to use strong shared interests that have emerged with its European Union partners in recent months to move forward on addressing Iran’s nuclear program, missile development and role in regional conflicts.

A State Department official said the shared interests could form a “foundation to continue to work together moving forward.”

Iran said on Sunday that it would join a meeting with diplomats from Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia in Vienna on Friday to discuss next steps after the May 8 decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to exit the 2015 nuclear accord.

It said Washington would not participate in the meeting of the joint commission set up by the six world powers, Iran and the European Union to handle any complaints about the deal’s implementation.

The German newspaper Welt am Sonntag cited an unnamed senior EU official as saying there were also discussions about a possible new pact between Iran and world powers that would cover the same ground as the 2015 deal but with some additions to appease the United States.

These could include provisions to address U.S. concerns over Iran’s ballistic missile program and Tehran’s support of armed groups in the Middle East, the source said.

“We have to get away from the name ‘Vienna nuclear agreement’ and add in a few additional elements. Only that will convince President Trump to agree and lift sanctions again,” the senior EU official told the paper.

Such an agreement could in the future include financial aid for Iran, the report said.

The State Department official said Washington hoped the EU would focus “on the central issue here:  Iran’s multiple set of malign behaviors with regard to its nuclear program, missile development, terrorism, regional conflicts, and other issues.”

Three EU sources who were part of negotiations to keep Trump from quitting the nuclear deal said Friday’s meeting would address only the implementation of the 2015 deal, but not offer Iran financial aid in exchange for concessions.

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi rejected reports of a proposed new agreement as “irrelevant claims”, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

“A meeting set for the next few days for the first joint commission without the United States … will only cover issues of the nuclear accord between Iran and the other members,” Qasemi said.

Earlier, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on state television that the “joint commission … will be held at Iran’s request, and without the United States, to discuss the consequences of America’s withdrawal, and how the remaining countries can continue their commitment to the deal.”

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will outline a “diplomatic roadmap” and call for broad support from European and other allies to apply pressure on Iran to force it back to the negotiating table, as well as their support to address “the totality of Iran’s threats”.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Damon Darlin in Washington, Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Dale Hudson, William Maclean)

Trump pulls U.S. from Iran nuclear deal, to revive sanctions

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to a question from the media as National Security Advisor John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence look on after the president announced his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement during a statement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he was reimposing economic sanctions on Iran and pulling the United States out of an international agreement aimed at stopping Tehran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

The decision is likely to raise the risk of conflict in the Middle East, upset America’s European allies and disrupt global oil supplies.

“I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal,” Trump said at the White House. “In a few moments, I will sign a presidential memorandum to begin reinstating U.S. nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime. We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanctions.”

The 2015 deal, worked out by the United States, five other international powers and Iran, eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear program.

Trump says the agreement, the signature foreign policy achievement of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear activities beyond 2025 nor its role in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

Iran has ruled out renegotiating the agreement and threatened to retaliate, although it has not said exactly how, if Washington pulled out.

Renewing sanctions would make it much harder for Iran to sell its oil abroad or use the international banking system.

(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann, Makini Brice, Warren Strobel and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Ayenat Mersie in New York, Sybille de La Hamaide, John Irish and Tim Hepher in Paris, Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London, Andrew Torchia in Dubai; Writing by William Maclean and Alistair Bell; Editing by Peter Graff, Yara Bayoumy and Bill Trott)

Iran says it can produce higher enriched uranium if U.S. exits nuclear deal

FILE PHOTO: Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi attends the lecture "Iran after the agreement: Hopes & Concerns" in Vienna, Austria, September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

ANKARA (Reuters) – Iran has the technical capability to enrich uranium to a higher level than it could before a multinational nuclear deal was reached to curb its nuclear program, state TV quoted the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy organization Ali Akbar Salehi as saying.Middle East, U.S. sanctions,

U.S. President Donald) Trump has given European signatories to the 2105 deal a May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” in the agreement, or he will refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran.

Salehi warned Trump against taking this course. “Iran is not bluffing … Technically, we are fully prepared to enrich uranium higher than we used to produce before the deal was reached… I hope Trump comes to his senses and stays in the deal.”

Under the deal, which led to the lifting of most international sanctions in 2016, Iran’s level of enrichment must remain around 3.6 percent.

Iran stopped producing 20 percent enriched uranium and gave up the majority of its stockpile as part of the agreement with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.

Uranium refined to 20 percent fissile purity is well beyond the 5 percent normally required to fuel civilian nuclear power plants, though still well short of highly enriched, or 80-90 percent, purity needed for a nuclear bomb.

Tehran has ruled out any possibility of negotiating over the country’s ballistic missile program, its nuclear activities beyond 2025 and its international role in the Middle East, as demanded by Trump.

Britain, France and Germany back the deal as the best way of stopping Tehran getting nuclear weapons, but have called on Iran to limit its regional influence and curb the missile program.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra and David Stamp)

U.S. targets Chinese and Russia entities over North Korea

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin walks through the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City, U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By David Brunnstrom and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is imposing new North Korea-related sanctions, targeting Chinese and Russian firms and individuals for supporting Pyongyang’s weapons programs, U.S. officials announced on Tuesday, but stopped short of an anticipated focus on Chinese banks.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control designated six Chinese-owned entities, one Russian, one North Korean and two based in Singapore. They included a Namibia-based subsidiary of a Chinese company and a North Korean entity operating in Namibia.

Six individuals including four Russians, one Chinese and one North Korean were targeted, the Treasury Department said.

The move follows toughened United Nations sanctions agreed this month after North Korea tested its first two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July.

The Treasury Department said the new sanctions targeted those helping already-designated individuals supporting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its energy trade. They included three Chinese coal importers.

The steps also targeted those helping North Korea send workers abroad and enabling sanctioned North Korea entities to get access to the U.S. and international financial system.

“Treasury will continue to increase pressure on North Korea by targeting those who support the advancement of nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and isolating them from the American financial system,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement.

“It is unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia, and elsewhere to enable North Korea to generate income used to develop weapons of mass destruction.”

A new round of U.S. sanctions had been expected, but Washington appeared to delay them while securing Chinese and Russian support for tougher U.N. steps.

U.S. officials and U.N. diplomats say the threat of U.S. “secondary sanctions” against Chinese firms with North Korean ties and trade pressure helped persuade China to drop opposition to the U.N. sanctions.

The latest steps stopped short of targeting Chinese financial institutions dealing with North Korea, a step that would have greatly angered Beijing. The Trump administration is still hoping China will pressure Pyongyang.

“The sanctions target a range of North Korea’s illicit activities and the focus on Chinese facilitators is another message to Beijing,” said Anthony Ruggiero, a Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior fellow and former U.S. Treasury official.

“However, there are missing elements. There’s no focus on the efforts of Chinese banks that facilitate these transactions. In addition, these Chinese networks likely have additional front companies operating on behalf of the network and those were not sanctioned.”

China is North Korea’s neighbor and main trading partner and U.S. foreign policy experts say Chinese companies have long had a key role in financing Pyongyang.

The Chinese and Russians embassies in Washington did not respond to requests for comment. China has said in the past it is strongly opposed to unilateral sanctions outside the U.N. framework, and has accused the United States of using “long-arm” jurisdiction in targeting Chinese entities.

(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by David Alexander and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Japan’s military begins major drill with U.S. carriers watching North Korea

The U.S. Navy aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan (front) and USS Carl Vinson and (back R) sail with their strike groups and Japanese naval ships during training in the Sea of Japan, June 1, 2017.

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s navy and air force began a three-day military exercise with two U.S. aircraft carriers in the Sea of Japan on Thursday adding pressure on North Korea to halt an accelerating ballistic missile program.

Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force has sent two ships, including one of its four helicopter carriers, the Hyuga, to join the U.S carriers, the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson, and their eight escort ships, Japan’s military said in a release.

Japanese Air Self Defence Force F-15s are taking part in simulated combat with U.S. Navy F-18 fighters at the same time, the military said.

“It’s the first time we have exercised with two carriers. It’s a major exercise for us,” a Japanese military spokesman said.

The Sea of Japan separates Japan from the Korean peninsula.

U.S. Navy aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson (L) and USS Ronald Reagan sail with their strike groups and Japanese naval ships during training in the Sea of Japan, June 1, 2017.

U.S. Navy aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson (L) and USS Ronald Reagan sail with their strike groups and Japanese naval ships during training in the Sea of Japan, June 1, 2017. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers/Handout via REUTERS

The United States sent the warships to the region after a surge of tension on the Korean peninsula over fears the North was about to conduct a sixth nuclear test, or another test in its bid to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the mainland United States.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to work with other countries to deter North Korea, which on Monday conducted a short-range ballistic missile test.

The missile reached an altitude of 120 km (75 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan in international waters, but inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone where it has jurisdiction over the exploration and exploitation of maritime resources.

The launch followed two successful tests of medium-to-long-range missiles in as many weeks as North Korea conducts tests at an unprecedented pace,

North Korea can already strike anywhere in Japan with missiles, raising concern in Tokyo that it could eventually be threatened by a North Korean nuclear strike.

South Korea’s new liberal president, Moon Jae-in, who took office on May 10, has taken a more conciliatory line than Abe, pledging to engage with his reclusive neighbor in dialogue.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Robert Birsel)

North Korea’s latest missile launch suggests progress toward ICBM

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

By Jack Kim and Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s successful missile test-launch signals major advances in developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, such as mastery of re-entry technology and better engine performance key to targeting the United States, experts say.

The isolated country has been developing a long-range missile capable of striking the mainland United States mounted with a nuclear warhead. That would require a flight of 8,000 km (4,800 miles) or more and technology to ensure a warhead’s stable re-entry into the atmosphere.

The North’s official KCNA news agency said the new strategic ballistic missile named Hwasong-12, fired on Sunday at the highest angle to avoid affecting neighboring countries’ security, flew 787 km (489 miles) on a trajectory reaching an altitude of 2,111.5 km (1,312 miles).

The details reported by KCNA were largely consistent with South Korean and Japanese assessments that it flew further and higher than an intermediate-range missile (IRBM) tested in February from the same region, northwest of Pyongyang.

Such an altitude meant it was launched at a high trajectory, which would limit the lateral distance traveled. But if it was fired at a standard trajectory, it would have a range of at least 4,000 km (2,500 miles), experts said.

The test “represents a level of performance never before seen from a North Korean missile”, John Schilling, an aerospace expert, said in an analysis on the U.S.-based 38 North website.

“It appears to have not only demonstrated an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) that might enable them to reliably strike the U.S. base at Guam, but more importantly, may represent a substantial advance to developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).”

KCNA said the test launch verified the homing feature of the warhead that allowed it to survive “under the worst re-entry situation” and accurately detonate.

The claim, if true, could mark an advancement in the North’s ICBM program exceeding most expectations, said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.

Kim, a former South Korean navy officer, added the trajectory showed the North was clearly testing the re-entry technology under flight environments consistent for a ICBM.

The North has successfully launched long-range rockets twice to put objects into space. But many had believed it was some years away from mastering re-entry expertise for perfecting an ICBM, which uses similar engineering in early flight stages.

Sunday’s missile launch also tested the North’s capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead”, the state news agency said.

“The test-fire proved to the full all the technical specifications of the rocket … like guidance and stabilization systems … and reconfirmed the reliability of new rocket engine under the practical flight circumstances,” KCNA said.

On Monday, South Korea’s military played down the North’s claim of technical progress on atmospheric re-entry, saying the possibility was low.

For graphic on North Korea missile launch click: http://tmsnrt.rs/2pNI8t6

For graphic on interactive nuclear North Korea click: http://tmsnrt.rs/2n0gd92

“HELL OF A RIDE”

North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper devoted half of its six-page Monday edition to coverage of the missile test, with vivid color photographs of the launch and jubilant leader Kim celebrating with military officers.

The pictures featured a long nose-coned projectile that appeared to be similar to missiles displayed during an April 15 military parade for the birth anniversary of state founder Kim Il Sung, the current leader’s grandfather.

The nose cone resembles that of the KN-08 ICBM the North is believed to be developing, and the lofted trajectory tests re-entry by putting the missile through extra stress, said Joshua Pollack of the U.S.-based Nonproliferation Review.

“This is an advanced missile, if their claims are true,” he said.

KCNA said Kim accused the United States of “browbeating” countries that “have no nukes”, warning Washington not to misjudge the reality that its mainland was in the North’s “sighting range for strike”.

North Korea, which is banned by UN resolutions from engaging in nuclear and missile developments, has accused the United States of a hostile policy to crush its regime, calling its nuclear weapons a “sacred sword” to protect itself.

The North’s leader, Kim, has said it was in final stages of developing an ICBM.

It was difficult to say when the North will have a reliably tested ICBM ready to deploy, said Lee Choon-geun, a senior research fellow at South Korea’s state-run Science and Technology Policy Institute.

“When it comes to actual deployment, developed countries have tested at least 20 ICBMs and their success rate should be around 90 percent. It is not there yet,” he said.

But the new engine used for Sunday’s test signaled a major step forward in the intermediate-range missile development, one that can be modified for an ICBM flight, Lee added.

The lofted trajectory that would have result in more than 40 times the gravitational force at re-entry also raises questions about the stability of the payload and how much stress it can withstand, said Munich-based aerospace engineer Markus Schiller.

“We do not know if the re-entry vehicle survived this hell of a ride, and even if it did, we do not know if North Korea can build a payload that will also survive this ride.”

(Additional reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Clarence Fernandez)

Pence warns North Korea of U.S. resolve shown in Syria, Afghan strikes

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence looks toward the north from an observation post inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea,

By Roberta Rampton and Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence put North Korea on notice on Monday, warning that recent U.S. strikes in Syria and Afghanistan showed that the resolve of President Donald Trump should not be tested.

Pence and South Korean acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn, speaking a day after a failed missile test by the North and two days after a huge display of missiles in Pyongyang, also said they would strengthen anti-North Korea defences by moving ahead with the early deployment of the THAAD missile-defence system.

Pence is on the first stop of a four-nation Asia tour intended to show America’s allies, and remind its adversaries, that the Trump administration was not turning its back on the increasingly volatile region.

“Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan,” Pence said in a joint appearance with Hwang.

“North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” Pence said.

The U.S. Navy this month struck a Syrian airfield with 59 Tomahawk missiles after a chemical weapons attack. On Thursday, the U.S. military said it had dropped “the mother of all bombs”, the largest non-nuclear device it has ever unleashed in combat, on a network of caves and tunnels used by Islamic State in Afghanistan.

North Korea’s KCNA news agency on Monday carried a letter from leader Kim Jong Un to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad marking the 70th anniversary of Syria’s independence.

“I express again a strong support and alliance to the Syrian government and its people for its work of justice, condemning the United States’ recent violent invasive act against your country,” Kim said.

On a visit to the border between North and South Korea earlier in the day, Pence, whose father served in the 1950-53 Korean War, said the United States would stand by its “iron-clad alliance” with South Korea.

“All options are on the table to achieve the objectives and ensure the stability of the people of this country,” he told reporters as tinny propaganda music floated across from the North Korean side of the so-called demilitarized zone (DMZ).

“There was a period of strategic patience but the era of strategic patience is over.”

ECONOMIC TALKS

Pence is expected to discuss rising tension on the Korean peninsula with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday when he travels to Tokyo to kick off economic talks with Finance Minister Taro Aso.

Pence will meet business leaders in Seoul before departing – a “listening session” he will reprise at other stops on his tour in Tokyo, Jakarta and Sydney.

His economic discussions will be closely watched to see how hard a line Washington is prepared to take on trade. Trump campaigned for office on an “America First” platform, and has vowed to narrow big trade deficits with nations like China, Germany and Japan.

But Trump has also shown he is willing to link trade to other issues, saying he would cut a better trade deal with China if it exerts influence on North Korea to curb its nuclear ambitions.

Trump acknowledged on Sunday that the softer line he had taken on China’s management of its currency was linked to its help on North Korea.

The United States, its allies and China are working on a range of responses to North Korea’s latest failed ballistic missile test, Trump’s national security adviser said on Sunday, citing what he called an international consensus to act.

China has spoken out against the North’s weapons tests and has supported U.N. sanctions. It has repeatedly called for talks while appearing increasingly frustrated with the North.

But Pence and Hwang said they were troubled by retaliatory economic moves by China against the deployment in South Korea of a U.S. anti-missile system known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).

South Korea, which accuses China or discriminating against some South Korean companies working in China, and the United States say the sole purpose of THAAD is to guard against North Korean missiles.

China says its powerful radar can penetrate its territory and undermine its security and spoke out against it again on Monday.

‘RECKLESS’

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing the situation on the Korean peninsula was “highly sensitive, complicated and high risk”, adding all sides should “avoid taking provocative actions that pour oil on the fire”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow could not accept North Korea’s “reckless nuclear actions” but the United States should not take unilateral action against it.

Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, indicated on Sunday that Trump was not considering military action against North Korea for now, even as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier strike group was heading for the region.

“It’s time for us to undertake all actions we can, short of a military option, to try to resolve this peacefully,” he said on ABC’s “This Week” programme.

The Trump administration is focusing its strategy on tougher economic sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang.

Tensions have risen as Trump takes a hard rhetorical line with Kim Jong Un, who has rebuffed admonitions from China and proceeded with nuclear and missile programmes seen by Washington as a direct threat.

China says the crisis is between the United States and North Korea. Lu said China efforts to help achieve denuclearization were clear, adding: “China is not the initiator of the Korean peninsula nuclear issue.”

China banned imports of North Korean coal on Feb. 26, cutting off its most important export and Chinese media has raised the possibility of restricting oil shipments to the North if it unleashed more provocations.

Pyongyang has conducted several missile and nuclear tests in defiance of U.N. sanctions, and has said it has developed and would launch a missile that can strike the U.S. mainland.

U.S. officials and experts believe it is some time away from mastering the necessary technology, including miniaturising a nuclear warhead.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim and James Pearson in SEOUL, Daniel Trotta in NEW YORK, Lucia Mutikani and Caren Bohan in WASHINGTON and Michael Martina in BEIJING:; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Paul Tait and Robert Birsel)

North Korea engine test may be prelude to partial ICBM flight

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watched the ground jet test of a Korean-style high-thrust engine newly developed by the Academy of the National Defence Science in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on March 19, 2017.

By Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has likely mastered the technology to power the different stages of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and may show it off soon, analysts say, but it is likely still a long way from being able to hit the mainland United States.

North Korean state media announced its latest rocket-engine test on Sunday, saying it would help North Korea achieve world-class satellite-launch capability, indicating a new type of rocket engine that could be compatible with an ICBM.

The test showed “meaningful” progress, a spokesman for South Korea’s Defence Ministry said on Monday, with the firing of a main engine and four auxiliary engines as part of the development of a new rocket booster.

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis declined to give a specific assessment of the test but said it was “consistent with the pattern we’ve seen by North Korea to continue to develop their ballistic missile program.”

The North Korean announcement came as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Beijing at the end of his first visit to Asia for talks dominated by concern about North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Lee Jin-woo said the test showed progress in engine function, but added that further analysis was needed to show the exact thrust produced and possible uses for the engine.

North Korea’s state media released pictures of the high-thrust engine test overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, and said he had called it “a new birth” of the country’s rocket industry.

Experts say space rockets and long-range missiles involve fundamentally identical technologies, but with different configurations for trajectory and velocity for the stages.

MOTOR FOR ICBM?

Kim Dong-yub of Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies said he believed North Korea had carried out “a comprehensive test for the first-stage rocket for an ICBM.”

“It appears that North Korea has worked out much of its development of the first-stage rocket booster,” he said.

Joshua Pollack, of Washington’s Nonproliferation Review, said four steering nozzles had also been seen in older, long-range rockets North Korea used to launch objects into space in 2012 and 2016. But he said the main engine was quite different from anything seen previously and appeared roughly the right diameter to serve as either the first or second stage of an ICBM.

U.S. aerospace expert John Schilling, a contributor to the 38 North North Korea monitoring website, said the motor appeared too big for any ICBM North Korea has been known to be working on, but would be a good fit for the second stage of a new space rocket it is planning – or for a yet-unknown ICBM design.

Kim said North Korea had not yet mastered the re-entry technology needed for an ICBM, so still had work to do before it was able to hit the United States. It might though soon be able to demonstrate that it had perfected an ICBM system’s booster rocket stage.

“What could be next is they would make a new type of ICBM with this new engine system and launch it, but not the entire stages, but to make only the first stage, fly about 400 km and drop. They are not going to show it all at once.”

A U.S. administration official declined to give a specific technical assessment of the test but said it showed North Korea was “150 percent” committed to its weapons programs.

“This is one more indication that they are going to act in a way that is counterproductive,” he said.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests and a series of missile launches in defiance of U.N. resolutions, and experts and Western officials believe it is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said this year the country was close to test-launching an ICBM, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to tweet: “It won’t happen!”

Last week, Tillerson issued the Trump administration’s starkest warning yet to North Korea, saying a military response would be “on the table” if it took action to threaten South Korean and U.S. forces.

Trump told reporters on Sunday he held meetings on North Korea over the weekend and said Kim was “acting very, very badly.”

China said on Monday the situation with North Korea was at a new crossroads with two scenarios – a deterioration to war or a diplomatic solution.

“Any chance for dialogue must be seized, as long as there’s hope,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in Beijing.

(Additional reporting by James Pearson in Seoul and David Brunnstrom, Matt Spetalnick and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Jack Kim and James Dalgleish)