North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for expanding its space rocket launch site to advance its space ambitions, state media reported on Friday, as South Korea and the US accused Pyongyang of launching a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in two recent tests.
Kim made the remarks during a visit to the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, which has been used to put a satellite in orbit, but also to test various missile technologies. Those include static rocket engines and space launch vehicles which South Korean and US officials have said require similar technology used in ICBMs.
The KCNA report coincided with South Korea and the United States jointly announcing that North Korea used a new ICBM in its February 27 and March 5 tests, with the possible intention to fire it in disguise of launching a space vehicle.
Amid stalled denuclearisation talks, North Korea has threatened to break a self-imposed moratorium on tests of ICBMs and nuclear weapons, and tested satellite systems during this year's missile launches.
Washington and Seoul officials said the new system involved an "ICBM-capable platform" but did not demonstrate ICBM ranges in the February and March launches. The March 5 launch was North Korea's ninth weapons test of the year.
The United States and South Korea both said the missile system, known as the Hwasong-17, was unveiled at an October 2020 military parade in Pyongyang and reappeared at a defence exhibition in October 2021.
The tests were likely meant to check elements of the system before a full-range launch, potentially disguised as a space launch banned by UN Security Council resolutions, a US official said.
North Korea "has historically used its space launches to try to hide its attempted advancements of its ICBM programme," the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Space launch vehicles use technology that is in most cases identical and interchangeable with an ICBM."
The Hwasong-17 is North Korea's longest-range weapon, first showcased at the 2020 parade, carried on a transporter vehicle with 11 axles, with some analysts calling it a "monster".
Washington described the ICBM tests a "serious escalation requiring a united global response," and Seoul issued strong condemnation and urged Pyongyang to immediately stop actions that stoke security anxiety and heighten tension.
At the Sohae station, Kim inspected facilities and ordered modernising and expanding it to ensure that "various rockets could be launched to carry multi-purpose satellites, including a military reconnaissance satellite," the KCNA report said.
"It is the noble duty ... to turn the launching ground, associated with our state's great dream and ambition for a space power, into an ultramodern advanced base and a starting line of space conquest for the future," Kim was quoted as saying.
A separate KCNA dispatch said on Thursday that Kim called for developing a reconnaissance satellite to attain real-time information on military actions by the United States and its allies.
Pyongyang has denounced joint South Korea-US military exercises as a "rehearsal for invasion" and "hostile policy".