North promotes satellite center in a CNN interview

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North promotes satellite center in a CNN interview

A long-range missile launch by North Korea - or rockets for satellites, as the reclusive state has insisted - is “imminent,” its scientists claimed this week.

The claim, however, was refuted by South Korea on Thursday following an exclusive CNN interview, in which the U.S. broadcaster was granted permission by Pyongyang to visit its newly opened satellite control center, reportedly located in the center of the capital near the home of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

CNN reported on Wednesday that it was given an exclusive interview with the senior officials from the National Aeronautical Development Association (NADA) at the space center. In the interview, the North Korean scientists said a launch was “imminent” and that final preparations were underway to put “multiple satellites” into orbit.

While the North insists its satellite launches are for a peaceful space program, the international community considers them attempts to develop long-range missiles. A North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile armed with an atomic bomb is one of the biggest U.S. security concerns.

On Sept. 14, a NADA director said North Korea was ready to launch “satellites,” as the North also hinted that the launch would mark the 70th anniversary on Oct. 10, of the founding of the country’s ruling party.

The North last launched a long-range rocket in December 2012, when it successfully put an object into orbit. Two months later, it conducted its third and most recent nuclear test, prompting the international community to respond with bolstered United Nations sanctions.

According to CNN, the broadcaster was invited to the satellite control center but denied access to the building. The interview took place in the parking lot.

“In recent weeks we have been making a lot of progress in many different areas,” Hyon Gwang-il, the director of scientific development at NADA, was quoted as saying by CNN. “We are updating our satellite launch site in order to carry a better satellite on a more reliable basis. Finally, we have finished the work of perfecting the control system of launching the satellites into outer space. And again we have nearly finished our important work of controlling the satellites, which would be launched into orbit.”

NADA has prepared multiple satellites and they are in the “final stages of perfecting all operations,” the scientists were reported to have said.

The officials denied that a launch date had been determined. “We have our own schedule, we have our own program of launching our peaceful satellites,” Hyon said.

He added that he understood the international community’s concerns about the launch but that those fears were ungrounded. “Why on Earth would we have any intention to drop nuclear missiles on the heads of people throughout the world, including of course the people of the United States?” he asked.

Pyongyang, he continued, won’t give up its program under diplomatic pressure. “Our space program, especially our satellite launches, are not diplomatic bargains; they should not be seen as diplomatic leverage,” he said.

Another official said the North will continue missile development despite international sanctions for it.

“We are developing satellite technology, we are exploring outer space, not because we are in a very good position, well-off economically,” said Kim Gun-song, head of the Satellite Control Center. “We still have a lot of economic problems. Even today we are tightening our belts to survive and to improve. All the same, we are investing a lot into this space program. We will continue, regardless of what people say.”

South Korea said Thursday that the government is paying close attention to the situation in the North, but that there is no definite intelligence determining that a launch is imminent.

“South Korea and the United States are working together to monitor the North’s missile launch preparation closely,” said Kim Min-seok, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense. “In the past, the North sometimes tricked us and sometimes fired immediately after the preparation was done. It is different depending on the situation, but we are paying close attention and we will announce if there are any signs.”

On Wednesday, an American newspaper reported that Washington had decided to deploy 15 percent of its marine troops to the Asia-Pacific region to counter rising tensions, citing the North’s expanding nuclear arsenal.

The U.S. Marine Corps is “forging ahead with several big moves that will eventually place nearly 15 percent of the service’s personnel in Hawaii and beyond,” the Marine Corps Times, a newspaper specializing in military news, reported on Wednesday.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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