SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has claimed an "historic" advance in the country’s nuclear strike capability with the successful test of a solid-fuel rocket engine, state media said on Thursday.
The announcement came as South Korean President Park Geun-hye ordered the military to "strengthen readiness" in the wake of multiple North Korean threats to launch nuclear and conventional missile attacks.
Tensions have been soaring on the divided Korean peninsula since the North carried out its fourth nuclear test on January 6, followed a month later by a long-range rocket launch that was widely seen as a disguised ballistic missile test.
Angered by ongoing large-scale South Korea-US military drills, Pyongyang has ramped up the rhetoric in recent weeks, maintaining a daily barrage of bellicose warnings aimed at Seoul and Washington.
The solid-fuel test was personally monitored by Kim, who said it would allow for a major upgrade of the North’s missile delivery systems that would "strike great horror and terror into the hearts of our enemies", the state-run KCNA news agency said.
Solid-fuel missiles would have distinct advantages -- including greater mobility and the ability to launch within minutes -- over Pyongyang’s current, largely liquid-fuelled inventory.
The North is already understood to use solid fuel for its short-range, road-mobile ballistic missiles, but not for medium-range or untested long-range missiles.
According to KCNA, the solid-fuel test was of a "large output" engine and included separation testing.
"This is an historic and unforgettable day," Kim was quoted as saying.
On Wednesday, Pyongyang had focused its ire on South Korea’s Park, saying its artillery units stood ready to turn her office into a "sea of flames and ashes".
The presidential Blue House in Seoul responded on Thursday, condemning what it described as "a direct provocation to our nation as well as the president".
Park ordered the South Korean military to stand ready to respond swiftly and effectively to any "reckless provocations", the Blue House said in a statement. — AFP