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Pyongyang sets April dates for launching of a ‘satellite’

Mar 13,2009

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North Korea announced yesterday that it has notified international organizations of its plan to launch “an experimental communications satellite” between April 4 and 8.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency reported yesterday that the North had “informed the International Civil Aviation Organization [ICAO], the International Maritime Organization [IMO] and other international organizations of necessary information for the safe navigation of planes and ships according to relevant regulations as part of its preparations for launching Kwangmyongsong?2, an experimental communications satellite, by carrier rocket Unha?2 which was made public by the Korean Committee of Space Technology recently.”

South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs confirmed that the North provided the schedule to the IMO.

The North also said it was complying with the Outer Space Treaty, an international accord which bans the stationing of weapons of mass destruction in outer space and details laws governing the peaceful exploration and use of space. The North also said it was working under the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. The treaty states that outer space “shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

“[Our] accession to the said treaty and convention will contribute to promoting international confidence and boosting cooperation in the scientific research into space and the satellite launch for peaceful purposes,” the KCNA reported.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry responded that it confirmed the North Korean accession to the treaty on March 6 and the convention on March 10.

A high-ranking Foreign Ministry official explained that before launching an object into space, a state must provide details concerning the date, location, number of satellites to be launched and the rocket’s trajectory. Such information must be provided “as soon as practically possible” before the launch.

The official pointed out that by complying with the treaty and convention, the North has “free use” of outer space. The treaty states that “outer space ... shall be free for exploration and use by all states without discrimination of any kind.”

“This was a shrewd move by Pyongyang,” the official said. “They must have studied the impact the treaty can have on their launch.”

Moon Tae-young, the ministry’s spokesman, reiterated the South Korean position that whether the North launches a satellite or a long-range missile, it will be in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718. Adopted after North Korea’s nuclear test in 2006, the resolution imposes arms and financial sanctions on the country.

“We believe the North’s accession is a pre-emptive move of sorts,” Moon said. “They will want to argue that they’re really launching a satellite.”

South Korea has maintained that the North’s claim that it is a satellite launching is a disguise for a missile test. Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said yesterday that he “basically believes” North Korea is preparing to launch a missile. Speaking before the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee, Hyun said he considers what U.S. intelligence director Dennis Blair said Wednesday was “a space launch vehicle” to be the same as a missile.

“Based on circumstantial evidence and the current security climate on the peninsula, I believe launching a missile is what the North wants to do,” Hyun said.

Following the North’s announcement, Japan said yesterday it “would not tolerate” a North Korean act that raises regional tensions.

Yasuhisa Kawamura, deputy press secretary of the Foreign Ministry, said: “The Japanese government urges the North to exercise self-restraint. Even if it is a satellite launch, there is an international understanding that it would violate UN Security Council resolutions.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Department took a more cautious approach. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell yesterday declined to discuss what the U.S. response will be to a North Korean missile launch, saying, “We just don’t talk about ... intelligence or operations matters. I wouldn’t get into what, if any, preparations we make to deal with that possibility.”

By Yoo Jee-ho Staff Reporter [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]
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