North Korea Extends Rocket Launch Window By One Week

North Korea extended the time frame of this month’s rocket launch by one week due to technical difficulties as the totalitarian state faced cold weather and international protests over its plans.

Kim Jong Un’s regime decided to extend the launch period that began today to Dec. 29 from Dec. 22 after scientists “found technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module,” the official Korean Central News Agency said, citing an unidentified space administration spokesman. The same agency yesterday said the launch might be delayed.

A botched test would be an embarrassment for the North after an April launch failed shortly after liftoff and scuttled a U.S. food aid deal. The U.S. is deploying ships capable of intercepting the rocket, while Japan has readied its military and China, the North’s biggest ally, has said it should keep in mind regional stability.

“It would be strange for the North Korean media to announce they’re having problems and delaying the launch if they could really do it,” John Delury, assistant professor of international relations at Yonsei University, told Bloomberg Television. “The fact that the announcement came from the scientific community and scientists and technicians were said to have made the call suggests there may indeed be technical problems and of course could be related to the weather. It’s extremely cold.”

Solidifying Status

South Korea’s Unification Ministry urged the North to scrap the launch plan, saying it poses a serious threat to security in northeast Asia. The ministry said Dec. 7 that Kim’s regime is seeking to solidify its status as a nuclear state, and the rocket launch is aimed at developing the means to deliver nuclear warheads.

“Another failure would deal a heavy blow to Kim’s regime,” Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said yesterday. “He would lose more than gain, so his best tactic is to keep the threat open and maximize its bargaining power.”

Japan has yet to confirm any North Korean postponement of its launch plans, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said yesterday in an appearance on Fuji Television. China noted the North’s decision to delay and hopes “all parties make concerted efforts to safeguard peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in the whole region,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing today.

Flight Path

North Korea has been experiencing unusually cold winter nationwide this year, deputy director Ri Chol Su of the Central Meteorological Research Institute said today in a KCNA statement. Last week capital Pyongyang saw as much as 38 centimeters (15 inches) of snow and temperatures on the country’s western coast, where the rocket launch site is located, were as low as negative 17 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Temperatures are expected to rise after Dec. 13, Ri said.

The North expects the rocket’s fuselage to fall about 140 kilometers (87 miles) west of South Korea and its second stage to drop into waters about 136 kilometers east of the Philippines, South Korea’s Transportation Ministry said on Dec. 7, citing launch plans the North submitted to the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto on Dec. 7 ordered his military to intercept and destroy any part of the rocket that threatened the country, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said today, adding that a threat wasn’t expected.

Presidential Election

North Korea’s plans coincide with South Korea’s Dec. 19 presidential election. Ruling party candidate Park Geun Hye and opposition nominee Moon Jae In are calling for re-engagement after five years of deteriorating ties marked by atomic bomb and missile tests and two clashes in 2010 that killed 50 South Koreans.

“The issues in terms of the presidential campaign really are domestic,” Delury said. “They are South Korean issues, there are economic issues and there’s a lot of discussion of politics of South Korea and political reform.”

Kim has shown no willingness to heed international calls to halt nuclear weapons development.

North Korea has invested about $480 million to ready its rocket launch, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan told lawmakers last week. South Korea estimates the launch site to have cost $400 million, a further $50 million for parts manufacturing operations near Pyongyang, and $30 million for the satellite itself, he said.

North Korea’s military arsenal includes Scud, Rodong and Musudan missiles. The Musudan has a range of more than 3,000 kilometers and can carry a 650-kilogram warhead, according to South Korea’s defense ministry.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sangwon Yoon in Seoul at syoon32@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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