April 2 (UPI) -- North Korea is pursuing space development for peaceful purposes, and the regime's National Aerospace Development Administration is to take on more projects this year, state media reported Thursday.
Pyongyang propaganda service Naenara said the state is actively pursuing space development in the national interest.
"The purpose of the republic's space development is to adhere to the interests of the state and to use science and technology to solve scientific and technological problems essential to economic construction and people's lives," Pyongyang said.
Tension began to rise again late last year, when North Korea ignored calls for denuclearization and accused the United States of not giving up its military interests in the region.
Pyongyang has defended its satellite rocket launches for decades as "peaceful," but outside observers have said the space program is a fig leaf for weapons tests.
Under Kim, North Korea disclosed five-year plans for space development in 2012 and again in 2016. In 2020, the fifth and final year of Pyongyang's second five-year plan for space development, North Korea could be pursuing a major project before the end of the year, including a satellite launch, South Korean news service News 1 reported Thursday.
In 2016, the final year of the regime's first five-year plan for space, North Korea launched the Kwangmyongsong-4, on Feb. 7. The launch was widely condemned at the time, and critics said the rocket used to launch the satellite was similar to intercontinental ballistic missiles that could target the U.S. mainland.
North Korea's space program is being reported again at a time when the United States and South Korea are discussing ways to cooperate on the "full denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea's foreign ministry said Thursday U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, who remains the U.S. special representative on North Korea, held a virtual meeting on Thursday to address nuclear matters with South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon, according to Seoul Pyongyang News.