North Korea yesterday moved a rocket to its launch site, in preparation for blast-off next month, even as President Barack Obama warned Pyongyang from the border between the two Koreas that it risks deepening its isolation in the international community if it proceeds with the launch.
“North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations,” a stern-faced Mr Obama said after a tour of the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas resonant with echoes of the Cold War.
Mr Obama spoke immediately after his first visit to the tense Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), the heavily patrolled no man’s land between North and South Korea, where he peered long and hard at the isolated North.
The 2.5-mile wide DMZ was drawn up at the end of the 1950-53 conflict, which ended in a truce that has yet to be finalised with a permanent peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas in effect still at war.
“It’s like you’re in a time warp,” Mr Obama said. “It’s like you’re looking across 50 years into a country that has missed 40 years’ or 50 years’ of progress.”
North Korea’s launch preparations are expected to dominate high-level sideline discussions at an international nuclear security summit in Seoul set for today and Tuesday that Mr Obama and other world leaders are attending. The moves come as North Koreans and new leader Kim Jong-un mark 100 days since the death of Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.
In north-western North Korea, the main body of a long-range rocket was transported to a building in the village of Tongchang-ri in North Phyongan Province, the South Korean defence ministry said.
The Tongchang-ri launch site is about 35 miles from the Chinese border city of Dandong, across the Yalu River from North Korea. Analysts describe it is a new, more sophisticated site that would allow the North to fire the rocket from the west coast to avoid sending it over other countries.
North Korea said the launch of a satellite was a scientific endeavour. The launch is set to happen during celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the 15 April birth of North Korea’s late president Kim Il-sung, who was Kim Jong-il’s father and the current leader’s grandfather.
Washington says North Korea’s rocket launches are meant to test delivery systems for long-range missiles it hopes to mount with nuclear weapons.
Even as Mr Obama warned North Korea of the consequences of its actions, he spoke bluntly to China, the closest thing Pyongyang has to an ally, of its international obligations.
Mr Obama said Beijing’s actions of “rewarding bad behaviour [and] turning a blind eye to deliberate provocations” were obviously not working, and he promised to raise the matter at a meeting with Chinese president Hu Jintao.
“I believe that China is very sincere that it does not want to see North Korea with a nuclear weapon,” he told the news conference in Seoul. “But it is going to have to act on that interest in a sustained way.”
North Koreans, meanwhile, yesterday paid their respects to Kim Jong-il, with tens of thousands gathering in Pyongyang’s central square.
Kim Jong-un presided over a memorial service and gun salute in Pyongyang as North Koreans across the country observed a noon observation in silence in Kim Jong-il’s memory.
Citizens and soldiers lined up in rows, bowing their heads before a large portrait of Kim Jong- il flanked with wreaths of white flowers.