North Korea said it may delay a planned rocket launch after neighboring nations protested and Japan and the U.S. made preparations to shoot down any missile that’s deemed to pose a threat.
“Our scientists and technicians are now seriously examining the issue of re-adjusting the launching time of the satellite for some reasons,” state-run Korea Central News Agency reported yesterday, citing earlier comments by a spokesman for the Korean Committee of Space Technology. No elaboration was given.
Kim Jong Un’s regime said on Dec. 1 it would launch a long-range rocket to orbit a satellite between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22. The plan prompted the U.S. to deploy ships capable of intercepting the rocket, and Japan to ready its military to destroy any possible debris. North Korea made a rare admission of failure four hours after April’s botched test that scuttled a food aid deal with the U.S.
“Given the cold weather and North Korea’s technical level, it would be difficult for it to succeed with this launch,” Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said yesterday. “Opposition from the new Chinese leadership is another major constraint.”
South Korea’s Unification Ministry urged the North to scrap the plan, saying it poses a serious threat to security in northeast Asia. The communist 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, the ministry said in a statement dated Dec. 7.
“Another failure would deal a heavy blow to Kim’s regime,” Koh said. “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.
North Korea 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, adding that a threat wasn’t expected.
North Korea’s plans coincide with South Korea’s Dec. 19 presidential election. Both 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.
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.