Military sees no signs North will launch missile

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Military sees no signs North will launch missile

The military has yet to detect signs that North Korea is preparing to launch a long-range missile next month, South Korea’s minister of national defense said, an assessment that comes amid concern Pyongyang could resort to threats or aggression to sabotage a breakthrough deal reached last month.

On Thursday, Defense Minister Han Min-koo said before lawmakers that while “speculation had arisen in and outside the country” that North Korea could possibly test a long-range missile ahead of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of its Workers’ Party on Oct.10, the military had not detected signs that it was preparing to do so.

His remarks came the same day the South Korean Ministry of National Defense stated in a report to the National Assembly presented during an annual audit session that the possibility remained that the North could launch a projectile to mark the event.

When asked whether the South would resume psychological warfare tactics along the border if the North were to provoke, Han replied the military could restart its propaganda broadcasts at any time given the order.

Under the agreement reached between North and South Korea on Aug. 25, Seoul agreed to stop its loudspeaker campaign along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) so long as there was no unusual activity in the border area.

The deal defused tensions that had escalated on the peninsula following two land mine blasts on Aug. 4 that maimed two South Korean soldiers, an incident Seoul attributed to Pyongyang. In exchange for halting the broadcasts, North Korea agreed to express regret over the blasts.

Still, concerns have grown that the reclusive state could engage in a show of force ahead of the anniversary, bolstered by a recently released satellite image by 38 North that showed construction activity on a rocket-launching facility in Tongchang-ri, on the North’s western coast. The website, maintained by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, provides analysis on events regarding North Korea.

Should Pyongyang fire a missile, it would put a halt to ongoing preparations by the two Koreas for reunions for the families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, scheduled to be held from Oct. 20 to 26 at the Mount Kumgang resort.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se echoed the Defense Ministry’s assessment on Thursday, citing the “unpredictability” of the North Korean regime.

“Pyongyang could carry out a strategic provocation by launching a long-range [missile] disguised as a satellite ... notwithstanding the Aug. 25 agreements,” he said.

Amid increasing jitters, South Korea, Japan and the United States have reportedly begun preparing to host a trilateral talk with the special envoys from each country involved in the six-party talks, the NHK reported Thursday.

The talks, which started with the original aim of convincing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions, have been suspended since North Korea walked out in December 2008. They include the two Koreas, Russia, Japan, China and the United States.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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