North Korea Launch Expected

North Korea announces an upcoming missile launch. But will it have the effect the isolated Stalinist country wants?

rocket-NK-305.jpg This undated picture, released by the Korean Central News Agency on Jan. 5, 2009, shows a missile firing drill from an undisclosed location in North Korea.

SEOUL—North Korea has alerted global agencies that it plans to launch a satellite between April 4-8. The United States has called the move “provocative” and the United Nations has called it a threat to peace and stability in the region.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted unnamed official sources as saying Pyongyang gave notice it expects the first stage of the rocket to splash down in the Sea of Japan and the second stage in the Pacific Ocean.

Pyongyang’s neighbors and Western countries regard the launch as a cover for the testing of a long-range missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said such a launch would be “very unhelpful” and that any missile launch, whatever its goal, would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood added at a briefing on Thursday that “the North needs to not carry out this provocative act,” while calling for the reclusive government to return to six-party talks to work on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meanwhile told reporters he was “concerned about the DPRK's [North Korea's] recent move to launch a satellite or long-range missiles.”

"This will threaten the peace and stability in the region,” he said.

Ban urged North Korea to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, passed unanimously after North Korea's nuclear test in October 2006, and said Pyongyang should not conduct either nuclear tests or ballistic missile launches and should scrap those programs.

Korean concerns

The announcement also drew strong statements from the South Korean government.

North Korea's submission of launch documentation to the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization is “an attempt to build support for a case that, should a launch take place, they will claim it to be a satellite launch,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek called the launch “a missile test” and added that, regardless of payload, a rocket launch by North Korea would violate  U.N. resolutions.

'Some panic'

Art Brown, a former National Intelligence Officer for Asia at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, said Pyongyang’s real aim “is to drive a political wedge between the US and South Korea/Japan, and to open bilateral talks with the United States.”

“If the North Korea missile test is a success, it will cause some panic in the United States,” Brown said.

“It will mean that, for the first time, North Korean missiles could hit the United States. This will cause the United States to strongly want to bilaterally negotiate with the DPRK [North Korea] to reduce this threat.”

Bruce Klingner, as Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, said Pyongyang was criticized for failing to alert international organization ahead of its 1998 launch.

“You’re required to announce missile launches so that ships and planes can be out of the area at the time,” Klingner said. “One of the criticisms of their 1998 launch was that they didn’t do that—they simply launched it.”

“So what they may be trying to do is to minimize the fall-out. But the problem is that any launch—whether it is of a satellite, whether they claim it is of a satellite, or whether it is a missile—is a violation of two U.N. resolutions.”

Third term in office

Some North Korean experts interpret the projected launch as a signal announcing Kim Jong Il’s “third term” in office because of the similarity of timing to the 1998 launch which also coincided with legislative elections.

Soon after elections for the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly members were held on July 26, 1998, North Korea launched a Kwangmyongsong-1 rocket.

On Sept. 5, 1998, in its 10th Session, the Supreme People’s Assembly re-affirmed its support for Kim Jong Il, and declared his position as National Defense Commission chairman the “highest post of the state.”

North Korea experts interpret the 10th Session of the Supreme People’s Assembly as the beginning of Kim Jong Il’s “second term” as ruler of North Korea.

Previous launches

Long-running six-party talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States on the North's nuclear programs have stalled.

An initial energy-for-disarmament deal has halted because of Pyongyang's refusal to allow nuclear material to be taken abroad for tests.

The head of the U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Timothy Keating, recently told ABC News  that the U.S. military is prepared to shoot down any North Korean ballistic missile if the White House orders it.

North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in 2006, but whether it can manufacture a nuclear warhead is unclear.

It also test-launched a Taepodong-1 missile in 1998 and fired a longer-range Taepodong-2 in 2006.

The Taepodong-1, which Pyongyang claims put its first satellite into orbit, overflew Japan and fell into the Pacific, sparking international condemnation. The Taepodong-2 failed after 40 seconds but resulted in U.N. sanctions.

Original reporting in Korean by Changsop Pyon and Songwu Park and in English by Joshua Lipes. Additional reporting from Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Korean service director: Francis Huh. Translated and researched by Grigore Scarlatoiu. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes and Sarah Jackson-Han.


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