N.K. leader visits satellite launch test site capable of ICBM launches

SEOUL-- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited the country's satellite test site on the west coast and called for its modernization, Pyongyang's state media said Friday.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced his visit to the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, as Seoul and Washington jointly concluded Pyongyang's recent purported "reconnaissance satellite" development tests were those of a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system.

Kim's inspection came amid concerns that the North could engage in further provocative acts namely an ICBM test under the disguise of a satellite launch following its veiled threat in January to lift its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests.

"He learned about and evaluated the present state of the ground, and advanced

the task to modernize it on an expansion basis so that various rockets could

be launched to carry multi-purpose satellites, including a military reconnaissance satellite, in the future," the KCNA reported in an English-language news article.

"He also set forth the task for building some facilities in the launching ground," it added.

To enable the launch of "large carrier rockets," Kim also assigned tasks for reconstructing the "launching ground zone and the facilities for the general assembly and trial gearing of rocket and for the trial gearing of satellite," according to KCNA.

These tasks also include "establishing extra facilities for the injection and supply of fuel and modernizing parts of the launch control facility and major technical posts on an expansion basis," it added.

In addition, Kim gave instructions about the "matters of expanding the capacity of the engine ground jet test site, ensuring the convenience of carrier rocket transport and improving the ecological environment around the launching ground."

Observers see what the North claims to be a space development program as part of efforts to enhance its ICBM capabilities.

South Korea and the United States have concluded that the North's "reconnaissance satellite" development tests on Feb. 27 and Saturday were aimed at testing a new ICBM system ahead of a potential full-range ICBM launch.

Seoul's defense ministry called on the North to immediately stop acts that escalate regional tensions, while "strongly" condemning the ballistic missile tests as a breach of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The unification ministry handling inter-Korean affairs again urged Pyongyang to respond to calls for dialogue.

"The government will thoroughly prepare for all possibilities while monitoring related moves, such as Kim's visit to the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, together with the international community, including the U.S.," Cha Duck-chul, deputy spokesman for the unification ministry, told a regular press briefing.

According to a foreign ministry official, Seoul is in close consultations with Washington and other countries over how to handle the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula.

"We are closely monitoring the situation with concerns, as North Korea has hinted at lifting its moratorium," the official said, vowing continued efforts to resolve the North's nuclear issue through diplomacy and dialogue.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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