March 17, 2012 10:02
In what is likely to be widely considered a violation of its recent agreement to halt ballistic-missile tests, North Korea has made a surprise announcement that it intends to conduct a satellite launch next month.
The North Korean announcement first came during Friday's noon radio newscast from Pyongyang. It quotes an unnamed spokesman of the country's Outer Space Technology Committee saying an earth observatory satellite will be launched between April 12 and 16.
The announcer says the event is to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea's founder and late president, Kim Il-sung. Most significantly, the announcement specifies the payload will be carried into orbit on the Unha-3, the latest version of what is believed to be a three-stage long-range ballistic missile the intelligence community contends is designed to eventually carry North Korean nuclear weapons.
Earlier attempts with variants of the missile in 2006 and 2009 failed to reach orbit, although North Korea claims two successes. The 2009 launch led to a UN Security Council condemnation and toughening of sanctions on the impoverished and isolated country. North Korea agreed last month to suspend uranium enrichment and allow the return of UN weapons inspectors in exchange for desperately-needed food aid.
In a joint announcement after talks with the United States, Pyongyang also promised a moratorium on its nuclear development and long-range missile tests.
North Korea says next month's launch is in accordance with international regulations governing the launch of satellites for "peaceful scientific purposes."
Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, says the United States and others are likely to dispute that contention. Kim says Pyongyang is looking to play a card to give it a good hand for future negotiations with Washington without resorting to a military act that would be overly provocative.
The launch is to take place at a new facility in North Pyongan province. Monday's broadcast announcement emphasizes the flight path will be towards the southwest. The North Korean announcer says the flight path has been safely set and will avoid neighboring states, thus there is no possibility of debris falling on them - an indirect reference to South Korea and Japan.
A statement from South Korea's Foreign Ministry says any attempt by the North to place its own satellite into orbit would clearly violate UN Security Council Resolution 1874 banning all launches using ballistic-missile technology. It adds this would be a "grave provocation" for regional peace and security.
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