North succeeds in missile tests, diplomats sayAccording to diplomatic sources, North Korea has recently succeeded in testing the main engine of a long-range ballistic missile.
Tests of what the North calls its Taepodong-2 rocket occurred at a launching pad in Musudanri, North Hamgyeong province. They were the first engine firings since December 2002. Such tests are often the last step before an actual flight test of a missile.
A foreign diplomatic source said that the experiments were successful, in contrast to an accident during the last round of tests when an explosion destroyed facilities at the launching pad. Intelligence sources say that the destroyed facilities were rebuilt at the end of last year.
"U.S. intelligence agencies think that the size of the combustion trace and the amount of liquid fuel used, hint that the test is part of an experiment to develop the Taepodong-2 missile," said a diplomat who added that the experiment may have been conducted to seek negotiating leverage at six-party talks on the North's nuclear arms program. A third session of the so-far fruitless talks has been scheduled for June 23 in Beijng.
In a meeting late last month with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, was reported to have pledged that North Korea would freeze its missile testing.
The Taepodong-2 missile with a range of up to 2,200 kilometers (1,300 miles) is an advance over the Taepodong-1 missile that was test fired in August 1998 over Japan. North Korea claimed it was an attempt to send a satellite into orbit.
Experts say the liquid fuel Taepodong-2's range may be as far as 6,000 kilometers. The missile uses Chinese liquid fuel engines as a first stage rocket and a North Korean Rodong missile, based on Russian technology, as a second stage.
Besides using the experiment as a bargaining chip in the upcoming talks, North Korea may also use it to promote its missile exports.
A North Korean official said in April that the missile trade is used to bring foreign currency into the impoverished country.