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North media hints at long-range missile test

June 06,2019
A North Korean newspaper Wednesday published an analysis of satellite programs in China, Russia and Europe, prompting suspicions that Pyongyang is considering an intercontinental ballistic missile launch ahead of the U.S. president’s visit to South Korea this month.

The Rodong Sinmun, an official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party, ran a report entitled, “Fierce Competition to Operate own Navigation Satellite System” that discussed satellite development programs in China, Russia and European nations. The report was similar to an analysis published on May 6 discussing China’s successful launch of its 44th satellite.

Analysts wondered if Pyongyang was sending a message to Washington before U.S. President Donald Trump’s trip to South Korea later this month. He will visit Korea as a part of an Asian tour to attend a Group of 20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28 and 29.

Because satellite launches use similar technology as ballistic missiles, the United States considers any satellite launches by Pyongyang intercontinental ballistic missile tests. The international community has imposed sanctions that prohibit the North from testing ballistic missile technology, although it insists its satellite research is entirely peaceful.

The North launched satellites in April 2012 and February 2016.

State media reports on other countries’ space programs are considered signals to the United States.

In April, the Rodong Sinmun reported Iran’s plan to launch three satellites this year. It said the technology minister of Iran criticized the American argument that the rockets used to launch satellites were disguised advanced ballistic missiles.

“The North often pleads its arguments by reporting about other countries’ cases,” said a former South Korean government official. “The latest reports on satellite programs are not something you can just ignore.”

He said the North, after firing short-range missiles last month, is hinting that it is considering a launch of a long-range missile.

Some analysts said the North is trying to jumpstart stalled denuclearization negotiations in synch with Trump’s visit to Korea later this month. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other top officials who were involved in the nuclear negotiation temporarily stopped public activities after the failure of the Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February, but they have reappeared this month.

Reports about Kim’s public activities were published over five consecutive days this month. Kim Yong-chol, a top North Korean official who was the counterpart of U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo, and Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader’s sister, also resumed public activities.

The one-year anniversary of Kim’s first summit with Trump in Singapore falls on Wednesday June 12, and the Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement late Tuesday to urge the United States to resume talks.

“The United States should duly look back on the past one year [ago] and cogitate about which will be a correct strategic choice before it is too late,” a ministry spokesman said.

“Starting this month, the North is sending a message to the United States that it is ready,” said Cho Han-bum, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “The Foreign Ministry statement and the reports about satellite programs are intended to pressure Washington.”

BY BAEK MIN-JEONG, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]