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Harlan reports: "The North's announcement comes just 16 days after an agreement with the United States in which famine-stricken North Korea said it would halt parts of its nuclear program and suspend all weapons tests in exchange for 240,000 metric tons of food aid."

A North Korean flag. (photo: Stockbyte/Getty Images)
A North Korean flag. (photo: Stockbyte/Getty Images)

North Korea Says It Will Launch Long-Range Rocket Carrying Satellite

By Chico Harlan, The Washington Post

16 March 12


orth Korea said Friday that it intends to blast a satellite into space using a long-range rocket, an announcement that drew international condemnation and seemed to run counter to Pyongyang's recent promise to halt weapons tests in exchange for food.

North Korea described the launch as both and scientific and celebratory: It will take place between April 12 and 16, to mark the centenary of founder Kim Il Sung's birth.

The North's announcement comes just 16 days after an agreement with the United States in which famine-stricken North Korea said it would halt parts of its nuclear program and suspend all weapons tests in exchange for 240,000 metric tons of food aid.

Even if the North's rocket propels a satellite, rather than a weapon, into orbit, the launch could jeopardize the food deal - which U.S. officials had described as a tentative first step to better relations with new leader Kim Jong Eun.

The news sparked immediate concern from Washington, Tokyo and Seoul, with South Korea's Foreign Ministry calling the rocket test a "grave provocative act against peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, citing U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from using ballistic missile technology, said a launch would be a "direct violation" of Pyongyang's international commitments.

"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," Nuland said in a statement. "We call on North Korea to adhere to its international obligations, including all relevant U.N. Security Council Resolutions. We are consulting closely with our international partners on next steps."

Both U.S. and South Korean government officials have characterized the North Korean satellite program as a cover for long-range missile tests, because the technology for launching either is similar, and it is difficult for outsiders to distinguish one from the other. The key difference is a matter of payload: Satellites are designed for communication and observation; missiles are for destruction.

"What they're trying to do is perfect their reentry heat shield for a ballistic missile," said Victor Cha, a former White House director of Asian affairs who is now a senior adviser at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. In past years, North Korea has refined its ability to launch but has been flummoxed by the technology required for the survivability and accuracy of long-distance projectiles.

After a similar purported satellite launch in April 2009, the United Nations tightened sanctions against the North, adding a measure to ban Pyongyang from any future launches using "ballistic missile technology."

"If North Korea does conduct the launch, it kills the food deal," said Dan Pinkston, a Seoul-based security expert at the International Crisis Group. "For the Obama administration, it becomes politically impossible."

The North, which has signed an international space treaty, argues that it has every right to launch satellites for peaceful purposes. Friday, in a statement carried by its state-run news agency, the North promised "maximum transparency" and said the launch would encourage the "building of a thriving nation."

The Kwangmyongsong-3, designed as a "polar-orbiting earth observation satellite," will be launched from a station in the northwestern corner of the country, bordering China, and blasted in a southern direction, North Korea said. This is different from a launch three years ago that traveled over northern Japan.

"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," the North's news agency said.

Previous North Korean launches have succeeded more in sparking international ire than in showing off indigenous technology. The North said its previous long-range rocket launch, on April 5, 2009, placed into orbit a satellite that broadcast patriotic songs honoring leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung. But outside analysts say the launch ended in failure, with no object of any kind entering orbit. The first stage of the rocket landed in the Sea of Japan; the remaining stages and payload dropped into the Pacific Ocean.

Angry about global condemnation of that launch, North Korea expelled international nuclear inspectors from the country and walked out of the six-party talks on its weapons program.

One month later, Pyongyang conducted its second nuclear test.

Analysts in Seoul said that participants in the six-party talks - which include the United States, South Korea, Russia, China and Japan - could now see a similar breakdown in relations, particularly if North Korea interprets the latest condemnation of its satellite launch as an international vendetta.

South Korea later this month will host the Nuclear Security Summit, which will bring together some 50 world leaders, including President Obama.

In recent weeks, the Obama administration had been seeking new diplomatic opportunities with North Korea and Kim, who assumed power after the Dec. 17 death of his father, Kim Jong Il. U.S. officials approached talks tentatively, in large part because of North Korea's track record of making denuclearization deals in order to receive aid, then backtracking once the aid arrives.

But North Korea's latest apparent reversal differs from previous ones, because the food-for-nuclear weapons deal hasn't been completed, and Washington hasn't sent any of its food aid. The two countries had been in the final stages of negotiations on the food aid, but the United States had not yet signed a letter of intent, the final contractual step.

The North's announcement on Friday, some analysts in Seoul said, felt more like evidence of a divide within Pyongyang's leadership, rather than a well-orchestrated strategy to gain leverage.

"This is more complicated than typical North Korean behavior," said John Delury, an assistant professor at Seoul's Yonsei University. "One of the only things I can think of is, there isn't total unanimity in the direction of foreign policy. Maybe we are seeing some confusion within the system."

The North, for years, has promised its people a nationwide celebration in mid-April of this year, pledging to become a "strong and prosperous" nation with something akin to first-world status. A satellite or missile test at that time, some experts said, could be sold domestically as evidence of North Korea's strength.

"For now, it is unclear what is behind this decision," said Ryoo Kihl-jae, at Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies. "But even if North Korea is to go on launching its missile or satellite, there aren't any more measures for the international community to take. ... All possible sanctions have already been imposed."

As recently as last week, North Korean officials were expressing at academic events in New York their desire for rebuilding the U.S. relationship. Now U.S. officials are scrambling to figure out how to respond.

"I imagine it's going to be difficult to provide assistance now," Cha said. "The main option now is probably to go to U.N. Security Council and argue that this is a violation of security resolutions on North Korea. And you may see resistance from China and possibly Russia on that."

Staff writer William Wan in Washington and special correspondent Yoonjung Seo jin Seoul contributed to this report. your social media marketing partner


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+5 # RMDC 2012-03-16 18:43
This is not news. North Korea has been talking about and working on getting into the satellite launching business for at least a decade and probably more. The problem is that the wealthy industrialized nations think they have a lock on satellites and space. There is a substantial market for anyone who will launch satellites for poor or third world nations. Now they buy time from rich nations. Why not have their own satellites?

Why would any journalist quote the US State department on any subject having to do with N. Korea. All they are able to say is the same old boiler plate bullshit lies that they have always said. They have nothing to add to this story. Oh, unless, the job of the Wash Post is to finally give us the US government position on any subject. I don't care about the US regime's position on anything. It is a dying empire, a zombie state waiting for death. The world belongs to the new and developing nations where life still means something.

N. Korea has to sell products it makes to other third world nations that are on the US regime's shit list because the US totally blocks N. Korea from any trade in the world. N. Korea has sold rockets and military hardware to these nations since the 50s. The US can't control them and they trade with whomever they wish. They understand what a "free market" is. The US regime only believes in a market it controls -- and it calls that the free market.
+3 # Activista 2012-03-17 09:27
" They understand what a "free market" is. The US regime only believes in a market it controls -- and it calls that the free market."
this is EXACTLY true - last news on economic boycott of Iran - check Iran, gold - all these international monetary agencies are under "banksters" aka Goldman Sax control and we know who control them.
+1 # RMDC 2012-03-18 09:40
N. Korea does not need "assisatance." It needs for the US to end its war against N. Korea. There has never been a peace treaty signed after the cease fire of 1953. The US is still officially at war against N. Korea and so it uses all the means of war short of shooting and bomging -- economic blockades, isolation, military containment, depriving N. Korea of any and all resources necessary for life itself.

The US is an amazing war making machine. Any nation that does not submit to its economic domination finds itself subject to war.

Never listen to anything the US regime says about the nations it is making war against. War = Lies.

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