North Korea Plans Rocket Launch in April

March 15th, 2012 by Staff

online.wsj.com – SEOUL—North Korea said it would launch a rocket next month from a new facility on its northwest coast, in apparent violation of international sanctions and a promise to the U.S. just two weeks ago that it wouldn’t test long-range missiles this year.

The U.S., South Korea and Japan called the announcement “highly provocative,” saying it violated the North’s promises to other countries, and urged Pyongyang not to proceed with a launch.

“Such a missile launch would pose a threat to regional security and would also be inconsistent with North Korea’s recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

North Korea said the rocket would put a satellite into space, an explanation it used in two of its three previous tests of long-range missiles, each of which brought international condemnation and economic penalties.

None of North Korea’s previous rockets reached space, though the country claims to have two “experimental” satellites in orbit.

The announcement creates a new dilemma for the countries that have been seeking for years to restrain North Korea’s development of advanced missiles and nuclear weapons. North Korea on Feb. 29 announced it wouldn’t test long-range missiles as part of an agreement with the U.S., but that pact said nothing about other types of rockets. The U.S. on the same day announced plans to deliver food aid to North Korea. While Pyongyang painted the arrangement as a quid pro quo deal, Washington said it doesn’t link humanitarian aid to political matters.

While North Korea has a long track record of striking a deal with international partners and then eventually breaking it, Friday’s development stood out in part for the swiftness with which the North apparently turned its back on its recent agreement with the U.S.

“The North Korean announcement is disappointing particularly in consideration of the efforts by the U.S. and South Korea to improve the situation and try to find a way to resume the six-party talks,” said Park Chan-bong, a policy adviser in South Korea’s ruling New Frontier Party and former negotiator with the North.

The U.S. statement said it was consulting with North Korea’s neighbors and other countries on “next steps.”

Japan Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told lawmakers Friday: “I have directed our people to take measures with a sense of urgency, but in a calm manner, in coordination with countries concerned such as the United States and South Korea.”

North Korea walked away from the so-called six-party talks in 2009 after it was penalized for its last rocket launch. The talks with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. are designed to persuade Pyongyang to halt its weapons development.

North Korea said it prepared a new satellite to go into orbit sometime between April 12 and April 16 as part of events planned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung on April 15.

Kim, who is revered as North Korea’s “eternal president,” was the dictator who ran the country from its founding in 1948 until his death in 1994. His son Kim Jong Il led North Korea until his death last year. The new leader is Kim Jong Eun, third son of Kim Jong Il and one of several grandsons of Kim Il Sung.

The timing of the announcement and launch also raises North Korea’s profile ahead of a gathering of world leaders in Seoul on March 26 to discuss ways to prevent nuclear terrorism. The proliferation of nuclear weapons isn’t on the agenda, but North Korea has accused South Korea of staging the summit in order to build up criticism of Pyongyang.

North Korea said the rocket carrying the purported satellite will be fired from a new, larger launch facility near a town called Cholsan in North Pyongan, the country’s northwestern province. Analysts in the U.S. and elsewhere call the launch facility Tongchang, because it is close to a small village by that name. It is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Sinuiju, the North Korean city at the country’s busiest border crossing with China.

North Korea said the rocket would fly south, likely over open waters of the Yellow Sea and East China Sea.

“A safe flight orbit has been chosen so that carrier rocket debris to be generated during the flight would not have any impact on neighboring countries,” Korea Central News Agency, the North’s state-run news service, said Friday.

The country’s most recent long-range missile launch happened in April 2009 from a base near Musudan-ri, on North Korea’s northwest coast, and flew eastward over Japan before crashing in the Pacific Ocean about 1,270 kilometers east of Japan.

That rocket crashed 600 kilometers short of where North Korean authorities had projected its second stage to fall. Its third stage didn’t fire.

Even so, North Korea at the time declared it had successfully put in a place a second earth-orbiting satellite. It made the same claim when it launched its first long-range missile in 1998, but it didn’t discuss satellites or space when it fired a long-range missile in 2006.

Though North Korea’s advances in missile and rocket technology have been slow, they have been steady. The missile fired in 2009 went considerably farther than those in 2006 and 1998.

The new facility near Tongchang is far more advanced, with a 100-foot-tall launch tower and a below-ground tunnel to direct rocket exhaust. In recent years, it extended a rail line to a point nearby the facility and it tested a large rocket engine at the facility in November 2010.

In an apparent attempt to head off potential criticism of the launch, the North’s announcement said it will “strictly abide by relevant international regulations and usage concerning the launch of scientific and technological satellites for peaceful purposes and ensure maximum transparency.”


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