Just 16 days after they agreed to suspend its long-range missile tests in exchange for US food aid, North Korea has announced plans to launch a rocket to put its satellite into orbit.
The launch would mark the 100th anniversary of former President Kim Il-sung’s birth. The move could breach a ban imposed by the United Nations after North Korea’s last missile test in April 2009.
The United States has called the move from Pyongyang to be highly provocative, while Japan urged the North Korean Government to abandon the idea.
A statement from the US Department of State said: “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.”
Japan has added reason to be alarmed at the announcement, since it is located in the flight path of the rocket launches. The last rocket launch was termed a test by Pyongyang.
“[A test] could damage the stability of the region,” Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told reporters, adding it would be “regrettable” if North Korea pressed ahead with its plan. Gemba said that he would encourage China to exert more control over its erratic ally, and he would work towards an international response.
Conversely, The Financial Times reports that, unlike previous launches, the Eunha-3 (Galaxy) missile would be fired towards the Yellow Sea that divides the China and Korean peninsula.
Yang Moo-Jin, of Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said: “Following the alleged satellite launch attempt in 2009, this is another ploy to heap pressure on the United States by conducting a test-launch of a rocket which can easily be converted to weapons use.”
Pyongyang insists that the rocket launch is merely to place an earth observation satellite in orbit. Termed Kwangmyongsong-3, the satellite is intended to assist in the country’s economic development and is purely for peaceful use of space. The launch “will greatly encourage the army and people… in the building of a thriving nation”, the North Korean government said.
Yohnap News reports that a North Korean News Agency said the launch “will strictly abide by relevant international regulations and usage concerning the launch of scientific and technological satellites for peaceful purposes and ensure maximum transparency”.
Update: Russia has expressed its concerns over North Korea’s plans to launch the rocket. “We call on Pyongyang not to oppose the international community, to refrain from actions that aggravate the situation in the region and create further impediments for relaunching the six-party talks on the Korean peninsula’s nuclear issue,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
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