North Korea announced Tuesday it was preparing to send a satellite into orbit in what American and South Korean officials believe will be a provocative test of a long-range missile capable of reaching parts of North America.
The announcement came only days after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and South Korea’s foreign minister, Yu Myung-hwan, urged the North not to carry out the test, calling such a move “very unhelpful” and “provocative.”
Prototype pictures of North Korea Ballistic Missiles.
During her trip to Seoul last week, Mrs. Clinton called the North Korean government’s rule “tyranny,” but offered to normalize ties and provide economic help if it abandoned its nuclear weapons program. Officials in the region were awaiting the North Korean response when the announcement came on Tuesday.
“The preparations for launching experimental communications satellite Kwangmyongsong-2 by means of delivery rocket Unha-2 are now making brisk headway,” North Korea’s Committee of Space Technology said in a statement carried by the government news agency, KCNA.
The statement marked the first time North Korea had confirmed its activities at a missile-launching base at Musudan-ri on its east coast. It did not say when the launch would take place, but it was the clearest sign so far that it may be imminent.
In recent weeks, North Korea has said it has the right to launch a scientific satellite, an excuse, analysts in South Korea say, the North has adopted to avoid United Nations sanctions and any potential U.S. attempt to shoot down its missiles.
“It’s really absurd and funny for North Korea, a country unable to feed its own people, to say it is developing a space program,” said Kim Tae-woo, a senior analyst at the government-funded Korea Institute for Defense Analysis. “I think a missile launch is imminent, with all major preparations completed.”
A long-range ballistic missile carrying a warhead and a rocket delivering a satellite are so similar that experts said it was difficult to tell them apart until tracking technology detects a new satellite in orbit.
The U.S. space authorities tried but could not find a new satellite after North Korea launched what it called its Kwangmyongsong-1 satellite in 1998. Western officials believed that it had actually tested its Taepodong-1 missile.
At the time, North Korean media praised Kim Jong-il, who had been confirmed as the country’s top leader, for pioneering the country’s “space development program” and said the satellite was broadcasting revolutionary Communist songs to earth.
North Korea Chairman of The Defense Commission, Kim Jong Il.
Mr. Kim is expected to be reconfirmed as leader by the North’s rubber-stamp Parliament on March 8. Analysts in Seoul have cited the period around Mr. Kim’s re-election as a possible window for the North to launch a missile.
In recent weeks, officials and experts in the region have feared that North Korea was readying to launch the multistage Taepodong-2, the North’s most advanced missile with an estimated range of 4,200 miles and capable of reaching Alaska.
For decades, North Korea has tried to build nuclear weapons and missiles capable of delivering them, according to U.S. officials. After North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution urging it to stop all ballistic missile-related activities.
North Korea often uses its military threats to obtain concessions. The announcement Tuesday came just as Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso landed in Washington for a summit with President Obama.
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