North Korea's latest rocket-engine test showed "meaningful" progress, South Korea said today, in what is seen as a dangerous step towards the North's goal of developing a rocket that could hit the United States.
North Korea's KCNA news agency said on Sunday the engine would help the country achieve world-class satellite-launch capability, indicating a new type of rocket engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The North's announcement of a successful engine test came as US 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 programmes.
"Through this test, it is found that engine function has made meaningful progress but further analysis is needed for exact thrust and possible uses," Lee Jin-woo, deputy spokesman for the South Korean defence ministry, told a regular briefing.
State-run North Korean media reported that leader Kim Jong-un had hailed the successful test of a new high-thrust engine at its rocket launch station as "a new birth" of its rocket industry.
Lee said the test featured a main engine supported by four supplementary engines.
However, he did not elaborate on the progress the test showed the North had made, nor comment on whether the engine could be used for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), saying the South Korean military was conducting analysis.
US President Donald Trump told reporters he held meetings on North Korea at the weekend at his Florida resort. While he did not refer specifically to the rocket-engine test, he said Kim Jong-un was "acting very, very badly".
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests and a series of missile launches in defiance of UN sanctions, and is believed by experts and government officials to be working to develop nuclear-warhead missiles that could reach the United States.
North Korean leader Kim said in January his country was close to test-launching an ICBM. That would put parts of the United States in range.
Last week, Tillerson issued the Trump administration's starkest warning yet to North Korea, saying in Seoul that a military response would be "on the table" if it took action to threaten South Korean and US forces.
During Tillerson's visit to China, the two sides said they would work together to try to make North Korea take "a different course".
China has called for a dual-track approach on North Korea, urging it to suspend its tests and the United States and South Korea to suspend military exercises so both sides can return to talks.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated on Monday that China was committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula through talks.