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(2nd LD) N.K. leader orders production of more solid-fuel engines, ICBM warhead tips

All Headlines 17:06 August 23, 2017

(ATTN: REWRITES headline; ADDS more info in 2, 12-17 paras)

SEOUL, Aug. 23 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered the production of more solid-fuel rocket engines and warhead tips for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) during his inspection of a chemicals institute, the state media said Wednesday.

North Korea also unveiled a photo which indicates that it may be developing a new ballistic missile, called the Pukguksong-3, amid signs of de-escalating tensions between Pyongyang the United States.

Kim learned about the process of manufacturing warhead tips and solid-fuel rocket engines during his visit to the Chemical Material Institute of the Academy of Defense Science, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

In July, North Korea test-fired two ICBMs, called the Hwasong-14, which analysts say may put much of the U.S. mainland within range, including Los Angeles and Chicago.

"He instructed the institute to produce more solid-fuel rocket engines and rocket warhead tips by further expanding engine production process and the production capacity of rocket warhead tips and engine jets by carbon and carbon compound material," the report said.

It marked his first field guidance since Aug. 14 when he visited the command of the Strategic Force in charge of missile launches.

The latest move is widely seen as showing North Korea's resolve to develop ICBMs capable of reaching the U.S. mainland in defiance of international condemnation.

A photo carried by North Korea's official newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Aug. 23, 2017 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) inspecting a chemicals institute which produces solid-fuel rocket engines and warhead tips for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Experts said North Korea has yet to fully obtain atmospheric re-entry technology, a key element of an ICBM.

It is the ability to make a missile's re-entry vehicle that carries a warhead tough enough to withstand severe heat and pressure after passing through the Earth's atmosphere.

North Korea is also seeking to devise a long-range missile boosted by solid-fuel rocket engines. Missiles powered by solid-fuel engines on mobile launchers are harder to detect before launch by satellites.

Earlier this year, the North fired a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, known as the Pukguksong-2, an upgraded version of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). It is known to be using a solid fuel engine.

Tensions somewhat eased after exchanges of bellicose rhetoric between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leadership in recent weeks. Trump warned of "fire and fury" if Pyongyang continues to endanger the U.S.

North Korea last week held off on its threat to fire missiles around the U.S. territory of Guam, but its leader Kim also vowed to make an "important" decision if Washington continues its "extremely dangerous reckless actions" on the peninsula.

Pyongyang on Tuesday warned of "merciless" retaliation against South Korea and the U.S. over their ongoing joint military drills.

But Trump said at a rally in Phoenix that Kim is "starting to respect" the U.S., according to AFP.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said also Tuesday that he is pleased with what he called North Korea's restraint from provocations, voicing hope that dialogue with Pyongyang may be possible "sometime in the near future."

Amid what could be soothing signs of tensions, Pyongyang unveiled a photo which indicates the country could be developing a new missile to be launched with a solid-fuel engine.

On the wall at the institute inspected by Kim was a sign board which reads what the repressive regime calls the underwater strategic Pukguksong-3 ballistic missile, according to the photo carried by its official newspaper Rodong Sinmun. Pictures which appear to describe the missile's structure are also shown.

Analysts said that North Korea could test-fire a new type of an SLBM with a solid-fuel engine.

"North Korea appears trying to demonstrate that it can build a re-entry vehicle and it would test-fire an upgraded version of an SLBM or a ground-to-ground missile based on the technology," said Lee Choon-geun, a senior research fellow at the Science and Technology Policy Institute.

President Moon Jae-in said last week that North Korea would be crossing a "red line" if it weaponizes a nuclear-tipped ICBM.

Baik Tae-hyun, spokesman at Seoul's unification ministry, urged Pyongyang not to raise tensions.

"There are concerns that North Korea's nuclear and missile capability is nearing the threshold of (the red line). North Korea should stop acts that boost tensions on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

This file photo unveiled by North Korea's state news agency on May 22, 2017, shows North Korea's launch of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, called the Pukguksong-2. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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