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North Korea Proclaims Intention to Fire Long-Range Rocket Into Space

North Korean missiles, shown on display during a 2010 military parade in Pyongyang. North Korea on Friday announced plans to launch a satellite into space next month using long-range rocket technology (AP Photo/Vincent Yu). North Korean missiles, shown on display during a 2010 military parade in Pyongyang. North Korea on Friday announced plans to launch a satellite into space next month using long-range rocket technology (AP Photo/Vincent Yu).

North Korea on Friday declared its intention to in April place an orbiting system into space via a long-range rocket launch. The announcement was quickly denounced by the United States and regional allies who are concerned the effort is a front for the development and assessment of ICBM technologies, the New York Times reported (see GSN, March 8).

Pyongyang's unexpected announcement came just two weeks after the Stalinist state reached a deal with Washington to halt nuclear activities at the Yongbyon complex in exchange for badly needed food assistance. The nuclear shutdown agreement has raised hopes for eventual resumption of the moribund six-party negotiations aimed at permanent North Korean denuclearization (see GSN, March 15).

The U.S. State Department said a long-range rocket launch by the North would breach U.N. Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874, which prohibit North Korean ballistic missile firings.

"North Korea's announcement that it plans to conduct a missile launch in direct violation of its international obligations is highly provocative," department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in released remarks. "We call on North Korea to adhere to its international obligations, including all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions."

A North Korean rocket launch could reverse the recent momentum toward returning to the multinational nuclear talks that encompass China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia, and the United States. The last round of negotiations was in December 2008. The nuclear shutdown deal with Washington requires the North to refrain from carrying out new long-range missile trials and nuclear tests.

The aspiring nuclear power in April 2009 fired what it claimed was a satellite-carrying rocket that flew 1,800 miles before fizzling out over the Pacific (see GSN, May 15, 2009). The majority of the international community saw the effort as a long-range ballistic missile test and the Security Council condemned the rocket launch (see GSN, April 14, 2009). Pyongyang made a similar launch attempt in 2006.

"This will be a clear violation" of relevant Security Council resolutions, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said in provided comments."It will constitute a highly provocative action threatening peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia."

Japanese government Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said to reporters: "We believe a launch would be a move to interfere with our effort toward a dialogue and we strongly urge North Korea not to carry out a satellite launch."

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency asserted the new Unha 3 rocket would carry an "earth observation satellite" into space. The rocket is to be fired between April 12-16 from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, located in the northwestern part of the country at Cholsan, according to the government's Korean Committee for Space Technology.

The rocket launch will commemorate the birth of regime founder Kim Il Sung 100 years ago.

Kim Il Sung's grandson and new North Korean leader "Kim Jong Un doesn't have much to show to his people except launching a satellite," according to Koh Yu-hwan, an issue expert at Seoul's Dongguk University (Choe Sang-hun, New York Times, March 16).

Moscow joined other six-party participants in urging North Korea against the rocket launch, ITAR-Tass reported.

"We call on Pyongyang not to oppose itself to the international community and to abstain from actions, which escalate regional tensions and create additional impediments to the restart of the six-nation negotiations on the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula. We expect all the sides to show maximal self-control,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said (ITAR-Tass, March 16).

The missile involved in the announced launch is anticipated to be a Taepodong 2 or an altered version of that system, which was used in the 2006 and 2009 launches. International experts to date have judged the long-range missile tests as failures, though the 2009 trial is seen to have been more successful, Reuters reported.

The Taepodong 2, if functional, is intended to fly up to 4,160 miles, which would put Alaska in range of the missile.

Pyongyang claims the satellite launch is in accordance with its efforts to develop a peaceful space program.

North Korea possesses in excess of 1,000 missiles with a variety of top flight distances including 600 short-range Scud ballistic missiles and 200 longer-range Rodong missiles. The Stalinist state is thought to have a ready arsenal of intermediate-range ballistic missiles that can strike territory as far away as the U.S. military base on Guam. The country has also exported missiles and their related technology to Iran.

Experts do not believe the North has yet developed the capability to build nuclear warheads small enough to be mounted on a missile. There is a chance, though that Pyongyang has developed biological or radiological weapons that can be carried by missiles (Jack Kim, Reuters/Yahoo!News, March 16).

The North is likely to declare that the rocket firing has no military component and does not constitute a violation of its recent agreement with the United States, Dongguk University expert Kim Yong-hyun told Agence France-Presse.

"The U.S. will, of course, make a strong response, regarding it as a long-range missile launch," he said.

International Crisis Group expert Daniel Pinkston, though, said Pyongyang's announcement leaves last month's deal "pretty much dead."

Rockets for lifting satellites into space are "inherently dual-use technology: if you can launch a satellite you can deliver a warhead at long range" (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, March 16).

Note to our Readers

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