North Korea announced Saturday that it plans to launch a rocket this month in defiance of an international ban and raising tensions ahead of the presidential elections in South Korea.
Two days after the U.N. Security Council warned Pyongyang that going ahead with the launch would be "extremely inadvisable," North Korea's state news agency announced the decision to blast its second long-range rocket this year between Dec. 10 and 22.
In April, North Korea tried but failed to launch an Unha-3 rocket to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung.
The latest test will take place close to the Dec. 17 date of the death of former leader Kim Jong Il and the South's presidential election on Dec. 19.
Pyongyang's Korean Committee for Space Technology said the rocket would carry a "polar-orbiting earth observation satellite" for "peaceful scientific and technological" purposes after scientists had studied mistakes made during the botched April attempt, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
Washington and its allies insist the launches are disguised technology tests for long-range missiles that may be aimed at the United States.
Such tests are banned by the United Nations and the Security Council had on Thursday warned Pyongyang that going ahead with another launch would be "extremely inadvisable."
Hours after the North Korean announcement, the United States condemned the planned move and said it is consulting closely on the "next steps" with China and Russia and other nations that had been involved in talks aimed at pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
"A North Korean 'satellite' launch would be a highly provocative act that threatens peace and security in the region," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in a statement.
"Any North Korean launch using ballistic missile technology is in direct violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions," she said.
The resolutions bars North Korea from testing ballistic missile technology.
And Nuland reminded that an unanimously adopted U.N. Security Council Presidential Statement had strongly condemned North Korea's April 13 failed launch and expressed its determination to take action accordingly in the event of a further launch.
"We call on North Korea to comply fully with its obligations under all relevant [U.N. Security Council resolutions]," she said, warning North Korea, which faces a chronic food shortage, of further international isolation.
"Devoting scarce resources to the development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles will only further isolate and impoverish North Korea. The path to security for North Korea lies in investing in its people and abiding by its commitments and international obligations," Nuland said.
The United States, she said, is consulting closely with China, Russia, Japan and South Korea—which were involved in Six-Party talks with North Korea to end its armed nuclear drive—on steps that should be taken following Pyongyang's action.
Last month, North Korea said it already possessed rockets capable of striking the U.S. mainland, a claim mostly dismissed by analysts as hollow.
North Korea's announcement Saturday came just a day after young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met a senior delegation from Beijing's ruling Chinese Communist Party in the North Korean capital Pyongyang.
There was no immediate comment from China, North Korea's key ally, which refuses to endorse further international sanctions against Pyongyang to contain its defiant actions.
"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, according to Reuters news agency.
Pyongyang's announcement also came after weeks of speculation, based on satellite image analysis, that it was laying the groundwork for a new rocket launch from its Sohae satellite launch station.
South Korea had repeatedly warned in recent months that the North would seek to destabilise the situation on the Korean peninsula ahead of the South's presidential election.
"We sternly warn if the North goes ahead with the launch, it will face strong countermeasures from the international community," the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday, Agence France-Presse reported.
In the closed contested election, conservative Park Geun-hye, the daughter of late President Park Chung-hee, is facing liberal Moon Jae-in, who has suggested a return to an accommodating policy of engagement and aid for Pyongyang that has been missing during the five years of President Lee Myung-bak's rule, which ends in February when his single term expires.
The North and South remain technically at war after an armistice, rather than a peace treaty, ended their 1950-53 conflict.
In Tokyo, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda decided to postpone rare bilateral talks with North Korea scheduled in Beijing on Dec. 5-6 following the planned rocket launch, Kyodo news agency reported.
Reported by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.