Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
North Korean Rocket Launch Would be "Deal-Breaker" For Obama Administration
The United States on Friday strongly signaled it would call off a bilateral nuclear shutdown for food deal with North Korea if the Stalinist state goes through with its promised long-range rocket launch next month, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, March 16).
Pyongyang claims the rocket it intends to launch sometime between April 12 and 16 would carry an "earth observation satellite" into orbit. The United States and other governments have condemned the planned rocket firing as a front for testing long-range ballistic missile technology and as a violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the rocket launch would be a "deal-breaker" for the Obama administration and would likely cause the United States to reverse plans to send 240,000 metric tons of food to the North. The food assistance was intended to secure Pyongyang's implementation of a deal to shutter uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities at the Yongbyon complex and to observe a moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests (see related GSN story, today).
Nuland said the rocket launch would raise doubts that Pyongyang could be trusted to permit appropriate tracking of the distribution of the food aid as Washington has demanded.
The threatened event is "putting the Obama administration in a very, very difficult position. The administration would have little choice but to react in a firm way to this," said ex-State Department East Asia specialist Evans Revere.
The Brookings Institution's Jonathan Pollack predicted "the U.S. will probably really lean on the Chinese." The White House is likely to communicate to Beijing: "You remember what happened last time they tried to launch a satellite?"
China is North Korea's lead economic benefactor and is believed to hold the greatest sway over its neighbor.
Pyongyang is understood to have most recently conducted a long-range missile test in April 2009 when it fired what it claimed was a satellite-carrying rocket that traveled 1,800 miles before splashing down into the Pacific. The international community condemned the incident, which is assumed to have involved the North's experimental Taepodong 2 missile (Matthew Pennington, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, March 17).
Japan on Monday indicated it could move to bring down North Korea's rocket using missile interceptors provided by the United States, the Wall Street Journal reported (see GSN, Dec. 13, 2010).
"I am considering ordering measures to destroy (any) ballistic missile with the approval of the prime minister," Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka told lawmakers.
The defense chief said the Japanese Self Defense Forces could position Patriot Advanced Capability 3 interceptors and Aegis-equipped warships on alert to intercept the North Korean rocket should it appear to represent a threat to the island nation.
"If it is decided that there is a danger, we are preparing to take these procedures," Tanaka said, evidently describing the chain-of-command process that would come into play prior to the launch of a missile interceptor.
Though the Japanese military was on standby when the North fired its last long-range rocket in spring 2009, Tokyo ultimately abstained from an intercept attempt. The Self Defense Forces have carried out multiple missile intercept drills.
South Korea said the rocket launch would be a "grave provocation" that signaled Pyongyang's continued pursuit of long-range nuclear weapons.
"The government defines the North Korean working satellite launch plan as a grave provocation to develop a long-distance means for delivering nuclear weapons by using ballistic missile technology," presidential spokesman Park Jeong-ha said (Kelly Olsen, Wall Street Journal, March 19).
On Friday, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun voiced his government's "worry" about the impending launch to North Korean Ambassador to China Ji Jae Ryong, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
The official Chinese news agency quoted Zhang as saying, "We sincerely hope parties concerned stay calm and exercise restraint and avoid escalation of tension that may lead to a more complicated situation," Reuters reported.
It is unusual for China to release statements that can be perceived to place pressure on its longtime ally, Reuters noted.
Russia also urged the regime to call off the missile launch, saying it would set back efforts to relaunch long-paralyzed six-nation talks aimed at permanent North Korean denuclearization. The talks encompass China, Japan, both Koreas, Russia and the United States. Negotiations were last held in December 2008 (Jason Subler, Reuters I, March 17).
Pyongyang, however, on Sunday said other countries were "sadly mistaken" if they hoped the rocket firing would be called off, the New York Times reported.
The state-controlled Korean Central News Agency said a "safe flight orbit" had been selected that would send the rocket above the Yellow Sea and not to the east, over the Sea of Japan, to make certain "rocket debris to be generated during the flight would not have any impact on neighboring countries."
"The D.P.R.K. will strictly abide by relevant international regulations and usage concerning the launch of scientific and technological satellites for peaceful purposes and ensure maximum transparency," according to the report.
The Stalinist state said it would send invitations to "experienced foreign experts on space science and technology and journalists" to witness the rocket firing from the launchpad and command center (Mark McDonald, New York Times, March 18).
The North asserted it had notified the International Civil Aviation Organization, and other relevant international bodies of the planned rocket launch in accordance with global norms, Xinhua reported (Xinhua News Agency/Philippine Star, March 18).
The Korean Central News Agency blasted international rebukes of the planned launch as "a base move ... to encroach upon our sovereignty" and said Washington and Japan were guilty of "space espionage," Agence France-Presse reported.
"Explicitly speaking, no one can tolerate the double yardstick and double standards in the issue of satellite manufacture and launch," the organization said. "No one has the right to take issue with the D.P.R.K.'s projected satellite launch this or that way" (Agence France-Presse/Spacewar.com, March 18).
In early 2011, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that North Korea was within half a decade of wielding a long-range ballistic missile capable of striking the mainland United States, Reuters reported.
The South Korean Defense Ministry announced it had formed a unit to track the rocket's flight. Ministry spokesman Yoon Won-shik told journalists the U.S. and South Korean governments would employ "surveillance assets" to monitor the North's Dongchang-ri missile facility, Reuters reported (Jeremy Laurence, Reuters II/Yahoo!News, March 19).
Foreign experts on North Korea detect a familiar negotiating gambit in the regime's announced rocket launch, the Korea Herald reported on Sunday.
The North has a track record of trying to bolster its position prior to new international negotiations through "brinkmanship" tactics such as a new missile test, Dongguk University assistant professor Kim Yong-hyun said (Choi He-suk, Korea Herald, March 18).
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