Pyongyang Declares Rocket Ready for Launch

Posted April 10th, 2012 at 5:50 am (UTC-5)
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North Korea on Tuesday announced the completion of preparations for a rocket launch that is being roundly condemned by the international community.

The deputy director of North Korea's space program told reporters in Pyongyang that the rocket is now ready for a launch date as early as Thursday. International journalists including a VOA reporter were taken to view the rocket on its launch pad Sunday.

At his press conference, the deputy director rejected charges that the satellite launch is in fact a covert test of a nuclear-capable ballistic missile. He also insisted there is no danger of debris falling on inhabited areas, saying the first stage will fall into the sea 160 kilometers from the Philippines.

Earlier Tuesday, the United States and South Korea reaffirmed their commitment to South Korea's defense in the face of the planned launch, which they described as a “serious provocation.”

South Korean officials say Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin discussed the launch with his American counterpart Leon Panetta by telephone. The officials agreed to coordinate efforts to monitor the launch.

On Monday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the launch will serve only to further isolate North Korea's communist government.

“North Korea's launch of a missile would be highly provocative, it would pose a threat to regional security, and it will be inconsistent with its recent undertakings to refrain from any kind of long-range missile launches. And, as you know, we consider that it would be a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 and 1874. So we are continuing to make the point that it is a bad idea to do this.”

Pyongyang says the purpose of firing the rocket is to launch a weather satellite into orbit. However, the United States and South Korea see the launch as a means of testing a ballistic missile that could be used to deliver nuclear warheads.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Monday the launch would be a blatant violation of Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from firing any kind of ballistic missile. She said she expects the council to meet in response to any launch and respond in a “credible fashion.”

New evidence has also emerged that North Korea is preparing for what would be its third underground nuclear weapons test.

South Korean intelligence photos, provided Monday to VOA and other news organizations, show new signs of tunneling at the site of the two previous tests, and mounds of earth that could be used to refill the tunnel — one of the last steps before a test.

On Sunday, during the rare media tour of the North Korean facility, the general manager of the launch site told reporters that under the Space Treaty, every country has the right to develop space technology for peaceful purposes.

General manager Jang Myong Jin was asked by VOA whether it was appropriate for his country to be developing space technology when its people are suffering from food shortages.

“No matter how much we starve, don't we have to innovate and better develop technology?”

He responded that the country must innovate no matter how much its people starve.

The launch plan has upended more than a year of painstaking diplomacy aimed at achieving a resumption of six-nation talks to negotiate an end to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs in exchange for needed international aid.

The Russian news agency RIA Novosti on Tuesday quoted a foreign ministry spokesman saying the launch plan showed Pyongyang's “disregard for decisions” made by the U.N. Security Council.

Even China, the North's closest ally, has shown signs of exasperation over the launch plan, calling repeatedly for restraint by all sides. Some analysts believe that prompted Beijing's decision last week to allow several North Korean defectors to travel to South Korea after being trapped for almost three years at a diplomatic mission in Beijing.