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(LEAD) N.K. leader cites economic growth as urgent task amid rocket launch speculation

North Korea 16:15 March 09, 2019

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; ADD more info throughout)

SEOUL, March 9 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has picked economic development as his country's urgent task, state media said Saturday, amid speculation that the North may launch a rocket.

In a letter to a national conference of propaganda officials held in Pyongyang earlier this week, Kim stressed the need to concentrate all efforts on building the socialist economy.

He called on party officials to spur efforts to handle ideology education for citizens to ensure that "a great progress will be made in socialist economic construction," the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

It was Kim's first message that was made public after he returned home empty-handed following the breakdown of last week's summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi.

It also came amid reports that there are signs of North Korea restoring part of the Dongchang-ri missile launch site that it began to dismantle last year.

South Korea's spy agency also said vehicle activity is detected at the Sanum-dong rocket assembly center near Pyongyang, which is known to have produced intercontinental ballistic missiles, including the Hwasong-15.

U.S. think tanks and experts floated the possibility of North Korea firing off a long-range missile or a satellite-carrying long-range rocket at either the repaired Dongchang-ri site or the Sanum-dong center.

Trump said he would be "very, very disappointed" with Kim if the reports are true. He added Thursday that he is "a little disappointed."

It is not clear whether Kim's message may be aimed at easing concerns that North Korea could resume nuclear and missile tests that have been halted since 2018.

In a rare revelation, North Korea's Rodong Sinmun, the country's main newspaper, reported the breakdown of the Trump-Kim summit for the first time on Friday.

The country apparently recognized the fact that it cannot conceal the summit outcome indefinitely as North Koreans in border areas can access outside information relatively easily.

This photo, carried by the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's main newspaper, on March 9, 2019, shows North Korea holding the National Conference of Primary Information Workers of the Party on March 6-7 in Pyongyang. (Yonhap)


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