South Korea, Japan and China expressed concern over North Korea’s plan to launch a rocket this month as the communist nation’s activities raise tension in the region.
North Korean space officials have moved all three stages of a long-range rocket into position at the launch site, the Associated Press reported yesterday. The AP said it was among foreign news agencies allowed a firsthand look at preparations under way at the coastal Sohae Satellite Station in northwestern North Korea.
The plan must be canceled “immediately” because it threatens peace and security in the region, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday on its website, citing discussions between Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan and his Japanese counterpart Koichiro Gemba in Ningbo, China. In a separate meeting, Kim and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi pledged their nations will continue diplomatic efforts to steer North Korea away from provocative actions.
A report by the South Korean Yonhap News Agency yesterday said that the North was also preparing for an underground nuclear weapons test. Satellite images show the communist nation digging a new tunnel underground in the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the country’s northeast, where it conducted two previous nuclear tests, first in 2006 and then in 2009, Yonhap said.
The South Korean defense ministry isn’t aware that North Korea is planning a nuclear test, a ministry spokesman said in Seoul yesterday. The defense ministry spokesman spoke on condition of anonymity, in accord with ministry policy.
North Korea’s announcement that it intends to fire a long- range rocket to put a satellite in orbit between April 12 and April 16 has worsened relations with South Korea and threatens a food-aid agreement with the U.S. Japan’s government last week said it extended sanctions against North Korea by one year because of the plan.
North Korea reached an agreement with the U.S. Feb. 29 to a impose a moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches as well as to end uranium enrichment at its facility in Yongbyon, according to a State Department release. The U.S. said it would to provide an initial 240,000 metric tons of food.
Following the 2009 nuclear test, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding that North Korea “not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology” as well as ordering it to comply with treaty obligations such as cooperating with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency based in Vienna.
North Korea drew rebukes from nations including the U.S. earlier last month when it revealed plans to launch an “earth observation satellite” in April to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current leader.
AP cited unnamed experts as saying that the Unha-3 rocket slated for liftoff could also test long-range missile technology that might be used to strike the U.S. and other targets.
All three stages of the 91-ton rocket, emblazoned with the North Korean flag and “Unha-3,” were visibly in position at the towering launch pad, AP said. Fueling will begin soon, Jang Myong Jin, general manager of the launch facility, said during a tour.
Foreign ministers of South Korea, Japan and China met yesterday in Ningbo for talks on trilateral cooperation, China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
China’s Yang called on related parties to stay calm and seek a peaceful solution through diplomacy, the Chinese-language report said. China is willing to maintain close contact and coordination with related parties, Xinhua cited Yang as saying.
The communist nation’s state-run Korean Central News Agency last week said North Korea would execute a “merciless” strike on anyone who seeks to intercept its satellite or collect and debris from the launch, citing a spokesman at the country’s Committee for Peaceful Reunification of Korea.
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