The Group of Eight foreign ministers meeting in Washington this week should deliver “a very strong message” against North Korea’s plans to launch a satellite within days, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
“We share a strong interest in stability on the Korean peninsula,” Clinton told reporters after meeting in Washington with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba yesterday. “And we believe that strength and security will not come from more provocations but from North Korea living up to its commitments and obligations.”
North Korea has completed assembling a rocket, and officials of the country’s Space Development Department told reporters in Pyongyang that work is on target for a launch between April 12 and April 16, the Associated Press reported. Concern that the event is a cover for a missile test drew warnings from the U.S. and allies.
“It’s necessary for us to issue a really strong message,” Gemba said in a press conference with Clinton. A launch by North Korea “would obviously be a violation of United Nations resolutions,” he said.
Later in the day, Clinton said she expected this wouldn’t be the last provocative act by North Korea. “Recent history strongly suggests that additional provocations may follow,” Clinton said in an address to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Nuclear Test Prospect
China and South Korea also have expressed concern over North Korea’s plan to put a satellite into orbit with a long-range rocket. The launch, which will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il Sung, comes less than four months after Kim Jong Un succeeded his father as head of state.
Debate also has centered on the prospect that North Korea may follow any launch with a nuclear test. Activity at North Korea’s Punggye-ri atomic testing site is consistent with preparations for previous detonations in 2006 and 2009, according to a South Korean intelligence report obtained April 9 by Bloomberg News.
Analysts said the totalitarian state may be seeking to sway the outcome of today’s parliamentary elections in South Korea across the demilitarized zone.
“The timing is impeccable,” said Park Young Ho, senior research fellow and director at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “Kim Jong Un is taking advantage of the domestic North Korean celebrations of Kim Il Sung to aggressively influence South Korean elections.”
Control of Parliament
Polls indicated South Korea President Lee Myung Bak’s party may lose control of parliament to an opposition coalition that has pledged to improve ties with its northern neighbor. Opposition lawmakers accused the government of using the intelligence report to influence the elections.
North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party meets today and may appoint Kim Jong Un the new party chief in one of the final steps marking his succession after the Dec. 17 death of his father, Kim Jong Il.
The Obama administration has said firing the rocket would breach a February agreement with North Korea to halt nuclear and missile tests and end uranium enrichment at its facility in Yongbyon, which was to be followed by 240,000 tons of U.S. food aid.
“It would be impossible to imagine” the U.S. would follow through on the food aid if North Korea proceeds with the launch, Jay Carney, President Barack Obama’s spokesman, told reporters.
Launching the missile “would represent clear and serious violations” of UN resolutions and the U.S. will work with its partners in negotiations with North Korea on a response, Carney told reporters traveling with Obama yesterday to an event in Florida.
North Korea’s government says it is putting a “peaceful” satellite into orbit and that doesn’t violate the deal. Ryu Kum Chol, a North Korean space official, dismissed as “nonsense” assertions that the satellite launch is aimed at developing missile technology, the AP said. Ryu said the communications satellite is fitted with a camera to monitor weather conditions.
Kim’s government may be using the prospect of a follow-up nuclear test as a bargaining chip to keep the food-aid deal from falling apart, analysts including Koh Yu Hwan said.
“The likelihood of a third nuclear test depends on whether the U.S. decides to keep the Feb. 29 food-aid deal following the missile launch,” said Koh, a professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “With the nuclear preparations, North Korea is waving its nuclear card at the U.S. and telling them to make a choice.”
The North Korean rocket is expected to fly south over the Yellow Sea toward the Philippines, South Korea’s transportation ministry said in a March 20 statement on its website. The first stage of the fuselage is expected to fall 180 kilometers (112 miles) away from the South’s western coast and the second stage near the Philippines’ northeastern-most island, the ministry said.
Following the 2009 test, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the move and strengthening sanctions that include letting cargo suspected of containing weapons be inspected. It also ordered the regime to admit International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, something North Korea agreed to in February.
In November 2010, North Korea showed its Yongbyon facility to visiting U.S. scientists, including Stanford University’s Siegfried S. Hecker, who said he saw more than 1,000 centrifuges. While North Korea claims its nuclear facility is intended to generate electricity, it can be easily converted to produce highly enriched uranium for bombs, Hecker wrote in a report on the university’s website after his North Korea trip.
South Korea’s main opposition Democratic United Party said intelligence officials may have leaked the information about potential nuclear-test preparations to influence the parliamentary elections.
“It is questionable as to why the intelligence service is pointing this out to the people and the press now,” Park Yong Jin, spokesman of the DUP, said in an e-mailed statement.
The DUP, which calls for greater engagement with the North and has yet to issue its position on the satellite plan, is fatally “weak on national security” at a time when threats of a third nuclear test loom, ruling National Frontier Party spokesman Jeon Kwang Sam said in an e-mailed statement.