UN Chief ‘Deeply Concerned’ at North Korean Missile Launch Plans

Posted March 22nd, 2012 at 8:40 am (UTC-5)
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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed “deep concern” about North Korea's plan to launch a satellite into orbit, and vowed to raise the issue at next week's nuclear security summit in Seoul.

Mr. Ban, speaking Thursday, said the missile launch — widely seen outside the North as a pretext for testing a nuclear weapons delivery system — threatens regional security. He said it also violates a U.N. resolution prohibiting Pyongyang from using ballistic missile technology.

“I urge the DPRK authorities to refrain from any such act that will destabilize the situation and peace and stability in the Korean peninsula, and that is against the aspiration and inspiration of the international community.”

North Korea says the satellite launch, set for mid-April, is for “peaceful scientific purposes.” Pyongyang warned earlier this week that any South Korean attempt to discuss the North's controversial nuclear program at the security summit would be seen as a declaration of war.

Last month, North Korea agreed to suspend uranium enrichment and missile testing. It also agreed to allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors, in exchange for badly needed U.S. food aid. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday it had begun preliminary talks with the North on the return of its inspectors, who were expelled from the country more than two years ago.

Victor Cha, the former director of the National Security Council for Asian Affairs, told VOA that when Pyongyang agreed to suspend ballistic missile tests, that “clearly” included a moratorium on satellite launches.

“There really is no distinction between their (proposed) satellite launch and a ballistic missile test, since they use the same technology to get this vehicle into orbit. There really is no difference.”

The United States, Russia, South Korea, and Japan all have condemned the planned launch.

But Cha says international pressure is unlikely to persuade North Korea to reverse course, since the launch is planned as part of the celebration of the 100th birthday of the late leader Kim Il Sung, the founder of the communist state.

Earlier this week, Japan said it has the right to intercept the North Korean missile, if it becomes necessary to protect national security. Cha says North Korea's neighbors have every right to be concerned, because past endeavors by North Korea have resulted in failure, sending debris crashing into the Pacific Ocean.

“The danger with the so-called satellite launches is that, if they fail, they can drop pieces of the missile on stuff underneath the ascent path and that could be Japan. So I think the Japanese see this as a true national security risk, not because the North Koreans are aiming at Japan, but because we know nothing about the technology of this missile and whether it will be successful.”

Similar attempts by North Korea to launch satellites in 1998 and 2009 are widely regarded to have failed. But North Korea insists it has successfully launched at least one satellite into orbit, where it remains today, broadcasting patriotic songs.

In a separate development, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said his government is nearing a deal with the United States to expand the range of its ballistic missiles to counter the North Korean threat.

President Lee told reporters in comments published Thursday he believes a deal will be reached in the “near future” to extend the current 300-kilometer range, which was set by a 2001 agreement with the United States.