North Korea has tested a new rocket engine as part of its efforts to build a missile capable of reaching the American mainland, U.S. officials said.
President Moon Jae-In heads to Washington next week to meet Trump for the first time since taking office in May, as tensions soar on the Korean peninsula over Kim Jong-Un's nuclear weapons programme.
Citing unnamed US officials, Reuters reports that Pyongyang may have been testing the last stage engine of an ICBM. "But we will not comment on intelligence", Navy commander Gary Ross said in a emailed statement, declining to confirm the rocket engine test.
Tensions between the USA and North Korea spiked once again last week when American student Otto Warmbier, who was serving a hard labour sentence in Pyongyang for allegedly stealing a propaganda sign, died shortly after returning home in a coma.
The presidential Blue House said the South's test was meant as a warning against the North's provocative acts over the past months.
Its state media said on March 19 that it succeeded in testing a high-thrust rocket engine at a missile site near the border with China, indicating it was conducted a day earlier.
Two U.S. officials who spoke to Fox on the condition of anonymity said the engine test took place in Yunsong, North Korea, where other tests had taken place.
Outside observers say Pyongyang's space programme is a fig leaf for weapons tests.
The North has carried out two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since the beginning of a year ago in its quest to develop a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental United States - something Trump has vowed "won't happen".
Chinese diplomats visited Washington this week to discuss...
South Korea's unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, reiterated an assessment by military authorities here that the North is continuing activities aimed at advancing its missile capabilities.
Since hosting China's President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago Club in April, President Trump hoped China would help de-escalate tensions in the region following a series of ballistic missile tests, the report said.
Trump has made halting the North Korean nuclear threat his number one foreign policy priority.