Pyongyang Announces Fueling of Rocket for Space Shot

Posted April 11th, 2012 at 1:40 am (UTC-5)
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North Korean officials said Wednesday they have begun injecting fuel into a rocket for an imminent space launch, raising the stakes in an escalating standoff with its regional neighbors and the United States.

Paek Chang Ho, chief of North Korea's launch command center, announced the action to a visiting group of international reporters, saying fuel was being loaded into the rocket as he spoke. The journalists, who visited the launch site Sunday, were able to view the activity by video, which was fed live to the remote command center Wednesday.

Paek also said a weather satellite has been installed on the rocket, which is set for launch sometime between Thursday and Monday, depending on weather conditions. The video showed a tarpaulin draped over the top of the rocket, making that claim impossible to confirm.

The scheduled launch has angered many of North Korea's neighbors, which see the action as ploy to test a ballistic missile that could later be fitted with a nuclear warhead.

Ryu Gum Chol, deputy director of North Korea's space program, told a reporter from VOA's Korean service that the only purpose of the launch is space exploration, “so to claim it is for ballistic missile development is illogical.”

But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that the launch has raised doubts about North Korea's claims that it wants to improve ties with its neighbors and the United States.

In a speech Tuesday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Clinton said North Korean leaders view better relations with the outside world as a threat to the survival of their political system. She added that recent history strongly suggests that more provocation may follow the launch.

South Korean intelligence photographs show that the North may be preparing what would be its third underground nuclear weapons test.

North Korea's launch plan has derailed a recent agreement with the United States, under which Pyongyang agreed to suspend its nuclear weapons and missile programs. The United States was to have delivered 240,000 tons of badly needed food aid to the North.

Clinton said Tuesday that by launching the rocket, Pyongyang was breaking that agreement as well as violating a U.N. Security Council ban on any North Korean ballistic missile testing.

But Ryu said that as far as he knew, there was no clause in the agreement with the United States banning a peaceful satellite launch. He added, “I don't think anything else will happen.”

Japan and South Korea have both threatened to try to shoot down the rocket if it strays over their territory, an action Pyongyang has said would amount to a declaration of war.

The rocket's first stage is planned to fall into the ocean about 160 kilometers from the Philippines, prompting that country to reschedule air traffic and order fishing boats to avoid the area.