North Korea has warned it will carry out its second rocket launch of 2012 as its youthful leader Kim Jong-un flexes his muscles a year after his father’s death, in a move that South Korea and the United States swiftly condemned as a provocation.
North Korea’s state news agency announced the decision to launch another space satellite on Saturday, just a day after Mr Kim met a senior delegation from China’s Communist Party in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, the Japanese new agency Kyodo, citing Western diplomatic sources, said Iran has stationed defence staff in North Korea since late October, apparently to strengthen co-operation in missile and nuclear development. The Iranian mission, Kyodo said, is made up of four experts from Iran’s ministry of defence and firms close to it. Citing the source, it said they were staying at a military facility 50 miles from the North Korean border with China.
China, under new leadership, is North Korea’s only major political backer and has continually urged peace on the peninsula, where the North and South remain technically at war after an armistice, rather than a peace treaty, ended the 1950-53 conflict.
China’s foreign ministry said it was deeply concerned by the planned launch, but urged calm.
“North Korea has a right to the peaceful use of space, but this right has been restricted by UN security council resolutions. [China] hopes all sides can do more to benefit peace and stability on the peninsula, and hopes all sides handle it calmly to avoid the situation escalating,” ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.
In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland condemned the launch plan as a provocative threat to the Asia-Pacific region that would violate United Nations resolutions imposed on Pyongyang after past missile tests.
“A North Korean ‘satellite’ launch would be a highly provocative act that threatens peace and security in the region,” she said.
North Korea has notified its neighbours of the proposed flight path, an unnamed South Korean official told Yonhap news agency yesterday, saying that it would take a similar path to a failed rocket launch in April this year.
That was supposed to take the rocket over seas separating China and the Korean peninsula where the first stage of the rocket would drop into the sea, then to pass over Okinawa.
The second stage was to fall in seas off the Philippines.
Seoul’s foreign ministry called the new launch plan a “grave provocation.” Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered ministries to be on alert for the launch.
“North Korea wants to tell China that it is an independent state by staging the rocket launch and it wants to see if the United States will drop its hostile policies,” said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace Affairs at Seoul National University.
North Korea is banned from conducting missile or nuclear-related activities under UN resolutions imposed after earlier nuclear and missile tests. The country says its rockets are used to put satellites into orbit for peaceful purposes, but that assertion is not widely accepted outside of Pyongyang.
Washington and Seoul believe that the impoverished North is testing long-range missile technology with the aim of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.