North Korea Moves Up Window for Missile Launch to Sunday

  • Obama, Xi say rocket launch would violate UN resolutions
  • South Korea has said Kim regime to pay `severe price' for test

North Korea may go ahead with a launch of a long-range missile as soon as Sunday, a move that both the U.S. and China said would violate United Nations resolutions and prompt a strong and united international response.

North Korea informed the International Maritime Organization that it was moving up the window for the previously announced launch of a satellite by one day, according to a letter released Saturday by the London-based agency. North Korea on Wednesday said it would launch sometime from Feb. 8 to Feb. 25 when it communicated its plan to the IMO.

The missile launch would be the latest act of defiance by North Korea, which faced international condemnation after it detonated what it said was a hydrogen bomb on Jan. 6. South Korea warned last week that the Kim Jong Un regime would pay a “severe price” if it went ahead with the rocket launch. Still, U.S.-led efforts to impose stiffer sanctions to pressure Pyongyang to drop its nuclear program have met resistance from China, which rejects any measures that could destabilize the Kim regime and trigger a flood of refugees across the countries’ shared border.

‘Destabilizing Action’

U.S. President Barack Obama has discussed the possible rocket launch with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and both agreed it would breach multiple UN Security Council resolutions “and represent another provocative and destabilizing action,” according to a White House statement. The two leaders emphasized the “importance of a strong and united international response to North Korea’s provocations.”

North Korea insists its rocket launches are for peaceful scientific purposes, while the U.S. has said they are tests of ballistic missile technology that could eventually carry nuclear weapons. North Korea fired a long-range rocket before each of its previous three nuclear tests, all of which resulted in a tightening of international sanctions.

The militaries of South Korea and Japan are on alert for possible debris from a launch that may fall withing their territories. South Korea has threatened to shoot down any rocket that enters its air space, though the flight path announced by the government in Pyongyang indicates the rocket won’t pass near the Korean mainland. Japanese defense officials have made similar threats.

South Korea has rerouted a total of 39 commercial flights during the launch window. Both Japan Airlines Co. and ANA Holdings Inc. announced plans to change the routes for some of their flights to avoid the projected test path of the missile.

North Korea put its first satellite into space in 2012 and has since upgraded its launch site on the nation’s northwest coast about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Chinese border to accommodate larger rockets. The nation’s claim the following year that it is capable of building a nuclear missile that can reach the U.S. has been met with skepticism. Even so, officials in Seoul have said the Kim regime has made significant strides toward developing such weapons.

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