Int’l censure over planned launch

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Int’l censure over planned launch

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A file photo of North Korea’s Unha-3 rocket at the Tongchang-ri launch pad in North Pyongan Province on April 8. [AP/YONHAP]

South Korea, the United States and Japan strongly condemned North Korea’s plan to launch a long-range rocket this month, which was announced just one day after the first high-level meeting between Pyongyang and Beijing under the new Chinese leadership.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement on Saturday that the North should scrap the “highly provocative” launch.

“A North Korean ‘satellite’ launch would be a highly provocative act,’’ Nuland said in a written statement. “Any North Korean launch using ballistic missile technology is in direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874.

“Devoting scarce resources to the development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles will only further isolate and impoverish North Korea.”

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also announced the postponement of high-level bilateral talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang, which was supposed to be held in Beijing on Wednesday and Thursday.

“I have determined it will be difficult to hold the meeting from a comprehensive standpoint, and I informed the other party of my postponement decision,” Kyodo News quoted Noda as saying.

“It will be quite regrettable if the launch is carried out. The international society, including Japan, will have to respond to it in a decisive manner.”

Noda also said that Tokyo will cooperate with other neighboring countries as well as the United States to prevent Pyongyang’s rocket launch, the agency reported.

Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto also issued an order to the Self-Defense Forces to prepare to shoot down the rocket if it is launched.

The Korean Committee for Space Technology, the state-controlled space program in the North, said in a statement on Saturday that the Unha-3 rocket carrying a “working satellite” will blast off from the newly built launch pad in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province in northwestern North Korea, between Dec. 10 and 22, carrying a polar-orbiting satellite called Kwangmyongsong-3 version II.

The statement read that North Korean scientists “stepped up activities to analyze the former malfunctions in April’s failed launch and improve the operation of the projectile.”

The rocket will fly southward so that the debris will not affect neighboring countries, the committee explained. The North also said yesterday that the first booster will splash into the Yellow Sea.

North Korea reportedly sent private notifications to neighboring countries about the launch schedule and its route.

On April 13, the regime launched a three-stage rocket, with the same name, Unha-3, at the same launch pad in Tongchang-ri. It was supposed to separate its first and second boosters in the Yellow Sea and the Philippine Sea, respectively, but the rocket exploded in the air within two minutes after blast-off.

The debris of the rocket splashed into South Korean waters without separating the first booster from the rocket.

So far, the regime has fired four long-range rockets in 1998, 2006, 2009 and April 2012, all of which failed, according to the international community. Except for the latest launch in April, which the new Kim Jong-un regime admitted to botching, North Korea has said the attempts were all successful.

Concerns are growing in South Korea that the rocket launch, which is seen as a disguised test of nuclear missile technology, could impact the Dec. 19 presidential election that falls within the North’s launch schedule.

“It’s still uncertain whether North Korea would fire the missile before the presidential election,” President Lee Myung-bak said yesterday in an interview with foreign reporters at the Blue House. “However, even if they did, it wouldn’t have an effect on the election.

“The South Korean government has remained vigilant with the assumption that the North can instigate provocations anytime, maintaining strong security preparations,” Lee said. “These preparations will curb the North’s provocations.”

Cho Tae-young, spokesman of the South’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, also lashed out at the plan in a statement on Saturday, saying the launch would be “a serious provocation that ignored the concerns and warnings of the international community” and “a grave breach of the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1718 and 1874,” referring to the UN resolutions that bar the North from using ballistic missile technology.

Experts say launch technology for satellites is nearly identical to that used for missiles.

The Chinese government hasn’t shown any official position on the announcement yet.

Beijing had a high-level meeting with North Korean officials in Pyongyang on Friday.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]


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