Last week, according to a senior Bush administration official, North Korea conducted an engine test of the Taepodong-1 missile. That cast doubt on whether the communist government is applying restraint to the program.
North Korea promised in September 1999 to suspend flight tests of the long-range missile, and the United States responded by lifting some economic sanctions that had been applied to the country.
Narrowly, North Korea has kept to the bargain by not launching any missiles, said the official who spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday, on condition he would not be identified.
But the program can be advanced considerably without flight tests, and it is clear that North Korea is going ahead with development of the missile, the official said.
Taepodong-1 was flight tested in August 1998. Concern over North Korea's program was one of the reasons cited by Bush administration officials in exploring the possibility of building a defense for the United States against long-range missiles.
In reply, North Korea has warned it would resume flight tests if the administration proceeds with the missile-shield program.
According to The Washington Times, effects of the engine test a large burn area were photographed by U.S. military reconnaissance aircraft.
The newspaper said Tuesday the engine test could be related to development of a longer-range missile, the Taepodong-2, which would be able to hit Alaska and Hawaii with a nuclear, chemical or biological warhead.
After months of reconsideration, the Bush administration decided in June to resume talks with North Korea, at a low level. One of the aims is to try to determine whether its leader, Kim Jong Il is interested in reconciliation with an accommodation with the United States.
The Clinton administration avidly pursued Pyongyang, providing food to help offset droughts and arranging to provide North Korea with new sources of civilian power in exchange for freezing its nuclear weapons program.
No further talks have been set since an opening exchange was held three weeks ago in New York. If the dialogue picks up speed, the United States will try to turn discussions to reducing North Koreas huge war-making capability, almost 50 years after the Korean War ended.
Gen. Thomas Schwartz, commanding general of the combined U.S.-South Korean Forces, told the Senate Armed Services Committee this spring that after a summit with South Korea in June 2000 the training cycle for the North Korean People's Army "was the most extensive ever recorded."
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