North Korea testing more rocket engines?

China’s foreign minister is pushing for the restart of international talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, saying that Pyongyang is ready to recommit to the goal of denuclearization.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Friday North Korea has recently said it is ready to come back to a 2005 commitment on giving up nuclear weapons and to an agreement it reached with the United States in February last year on freezing its nuclear programs in exchange for food aid. That agreement fell through soon after it was hatched because North Korea tested a long-range rocket.

The U.S. remains skeptical about Pyongyang’s intentions.

Meanwhile,  38 North, a blog run by the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, suggests that North Korea more than likely tested a long-range rocket engine late last month, according to analysis of new satellite imagery over the site. From the photos released, indicators of a probable test are seen through the presence of a probable rocket stage, propellant tanks, as well as the appearance of burned vegetation around the launch stand.

“These are not in and of themselves indicators that there is going to be a rocket test six months from now,” Joel Wit, a former North Korea specialist at the State Department who is now with 38 North, told CNN about the photos. The Sohae launch facility, where the latest photos were taken, is the same facility from which North Korea has conducted previous rocket launches, including last December’s test.

In recent months, similar satellite imagery has shown what look to be other instances of rocket-engine tests by North Korea, as well as the resumption of production at a previously closed plutonium production site.

North Korean missile launch pad pause

North Korea has stopped construction on a launch pad where intercontinental-range rockets could be tested, an interruption possibly due to recent heavy rains and that could stall completion up to two years.

Despite the setback, however, Pyongyang is also refurbishing for possible future use another existing pad at the same complex that has been used for past rocket launches, according to the analysis of August 29 images provided to reporters by 38 North, the website of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

While the renovations don’t mean a launch is imminent, they indicate North Korea is preparing the site for possible future rocket tests, according to the 38 North special report written by Nick Hansen.

North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, but experts don’t believe Pyongyang has yet mastered the technology needed to shrink a nuclear weapon so it can be mounted onto the tip of a long-range missile

There are worries, however, about North Korea’s rocket and missile programmes. The United States, South Korea and others have said North Korea uses rocket launches, including a failed effort in mid-April, as covers to test banned missile systems that could target parts of the United States. North Korea says recent rocket launches were meant to put peaceful satellites into orbit.

North Korea has repeatedly vowed to push ahead with its nuclear program in the face of what it calls US hostility that makes a “nuclear deterrence” necessary.