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North Korea Announces December Plans For Long-Range Rocket Launch

North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un, shown in February in Pyongyang. The Kim government on Saturday announced it would this month carry out another long-range rocket launch (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder). North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un, shown in February in Pyongyang. The Kim government on Saturday announced it would this month carry out another long-range rocket launch (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder).

North Korea on Saturday declared its intention to later this month send a long-range rocket into space, the New York Times reported. The announcement was quickly condemned by the United States and a number of other countries, which view the coming launch as cover for a new strategic ballistic missile test.

Pyongyang said the firing of the Unha 3 rocket would occur between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22. Those dates encompass the one-year anniversary of the Dec. 17, 2011 death of former dictator Kim Jong Il.

The North's announcement confirms days of international speculation touched off by the posting of surveillance satellite pictures that revealed a high level of apparent launch preparations at North Korea's Dongchang-ri missile complex.

The Stalinist state is forbidden under multiple U.N. Security Council measures from using technology with ballistic missile applications. The North in April attempted to send a separate Unha 3 rocket into space; the launch turned into a high-profile embarrassment for the young Kim Jong Un regime when the rocket broke apart not long after leaving the ground. The Security Council roundly condemned the action and punished North Korea with tightened sanctions.

The North has "analyzed the mistakes" from the failed spring rocket launch and has enhanced the accuracy and dependability of the Unha 3 and the satellite it is intended to place into orbit, state media quoted a Korean Committee for Space Technology spokesman as saying. The rocket will follow the exact flight route planned for the April attempt, according to the spokesman, who added that the coming firing would be carried out "transparently."

"For Kim Jong Un, a successful rocket launching may be the best he can think of to show his achievements in his first year in power," Johns Hopkins University visiting academic Kim Yong-hyun said in an interview.

On Friday, the young dictator received in Pyongyang a group of senior Chinese officials. News organizations posited that one purpose of the officials' visit was to convince North Korea to abandon its space launch plans.

The initial stage of the Unha 3 rocket has been placed on the launch platform at the Dongchang-ri missile firing complex, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Monday, citing an anonymous South Korean government insider.

An anonymous diplomatic insider on Sunday told Yonhap that the North through its U.N. office in New York City had alerted Washington of its launch plans without offering details of the scientific endeavor.

Pyongyang also informed Japan and the other nations the Unha 3 rocket would cross over, a diplomatic insider in Seoul said to Yonhap.

The International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization -- bodies that in the past have been alerted by Pyongyang of its rocket firing plans -- have yet to receive an official notice for the December launch, officials said.

"A North Korean 'satellite' launch would be a highly provocative act that threatens peace and security in the region," Reuters quoted U.S. State Department spokeswoman as saying in prepared comments on Saturday.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry similarly condemned the launch as a "grave provocation" while Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was reported to have ordered relevant government departments to closely monitor for signs of the rocket firing.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Monday called for Pyongyang "to reconsider the decision to launch a rocket" and reminded the North of the Security Council restrictions that ban its use of rockets that employ ballistic missile technology, Reuters reported.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry was more circumspect in its response to North Korea's announcement. Beijing called for "all sides" to not pursue any step that "worsen the problem."

An anonymous high-ranking U.S. defense official told CNN on Friday, prior to the North's announcement, that there might not be any real rocket launch plans. "They could be moving things around just to make a point. But on the other hand it's the North Koreans, so who knows," the official said.

The U.S. intelligence and defense communities are focused on determining whether the aspiring nuclear power is likely to have corrected the malfunctioning systems that caused the Unha launch failure in April or if Pyongyang would go ahead with its rocket plans after such a short break, according to the unidentified official.

A key sign that Pyongyang intends to proceed with the launch will be if it begins to inject fuel into the rocket, according to the official.

The pariah nation is likely to face further harsh economic punishment if it carries out its announced rocket firing, a high-ranking South Korean presidential official told Yonhap on Sunday.

"Many countries think that this time, sanctions should be fundamentally different (from before) in terms of their scope and content," the anonymous official said.

"It is not important whether North Korea is trying to launch a missile or a satellite. The reason the international community is concerned is because this is aimed at developing a delivery means for nuclear weapons," the source continued.

In response to the North's rocket declaration, the Japanese government called off plans to hold two-way talks this week with Pyongyang, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported. 

Japan is positioning Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missile interceptors near the Okinawa islands and placing its military on alert in response to North Korea's rocket plans, Agence France-Presse reported. Tokyo employed similar measures in April when it feared it might have to attempt a missile intercept if it looked like the North Korean rocket or its debris would endanger Japanese territory.

Meanwhile, Seoul announced its intention to divert civilian flights away from the Yellow Sea to diminish the chances of any crashes with North Korean rocket fragments, according to an Associated Press report.

Separately, Beijing rejected accusations that a Chinese state-affiliated country had illegally supplied the North with mobile missile launch platforms, informing the U.N. Security Council expert committee with oversight on North Korean sanctions that the vehicle in question was just a "timber truck," Kyodo News reported.

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