WASHINGTON -- Satellite imagery indicates North Korea has been testing rocket engines, a sign it continues to develop its long-range ballistic missiles, a U.S. academic institute said Monday.

The analysis provided to The Associated Press is based on satellite images taken as recently as late September of the Sohae site on the secretive country's northwest coast. In April, the North launched a rocket from there in a failed attempt to propel a satellite into space in defiance of a U.N. ban.

The analysis on the website of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, which is called "38 North," said it remains unclear whether the North is preparing another rocket launch but predicted it may embark on new rocket and nuclear tests in the first half of 2013.

The analysis underscores the challenges posed by the North's weapons programs to the United States and its allies as President Barack Obama heads into his second term. Washington's most recent attempt to negotiate a freeze in the North's nuclear program and a test moratorium in exchange for food aid collapsed with the April launch that the U.S. regarded as a cover for testing ballistic missile technology.

In 2009, North Korea tested a long-range missile and its second nuclear weapon within months of Obama taking office, and the 38 North analysis says North Korea may conduct new tests in the aftermath of presidential elections recently completed in U.S. and due in December in South Korea. That could be viewed as a tactic to exert more pressure on the close allies as the North seeks recognition as a nuclear power.


Advertisement

Last month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said North Korea continues to prepare for such tests, and the North, angered by Washington's recent agreement to let Seoul possess missiles capable of hitting all of its territory, has recently claimed that the U.S. mainland is within range of its missiles.