N. Korea to launch satellite next month?

March 12, 2009 4:59:31 AM PDT
North Korea told an international organization it will fire a satellite into space between April 4 and 8, South Korea said Thursday, giving a time frame for a launch that neighboring governments suspect will test long-range missile technology.An official at South Korea's Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs said Thursday that officials confirmed with the International Maritime Organization that North Korea had informed it of the schedule for the launch.

Do Myung-hwan, the official, said North Korea also notified the IMO that the launch will be made in an easterly direction. Lee Adamson, a spokesman for the London-based organization, said he had no knowledge of the notification but would try to confirm it with officials.

The North's unprecedented notification appears to be aimed at showing it has fulfilled its obligations regarding the launch, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said.

In 1998, North Korea faced international condemnation because it did not inform relevant international organizations of a missile it launched over Japan into the Pacific Ocean. It claimed at the time that it had launched a satellite into orbit.

South Korea, Japan and the United States believe the planned launch will test missile technology in violation of a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution banning North Korea from ballistic missile activity, and have urged the North not to go forward.

"There is no doubt that this problem will destabilize peace and stability in the region," Japan's chief government spokesman, Takeo Kawamura, told a news conference in Tokyo. "We have grave concerns over this issue, and continue to gather intelligence."

But Alexei Borodavkin, Russia's envoy to international talks on North Korea's nuclear programs, indicated the launch may not violate the resolution, saying a judgment can be made after it occurs, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said. He made the comments after meeting with his South Korean counterpart in Seoul.

U.S. intelligence officials say the North may actually try to fire a satellite into orbit. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair said Tuesday that space launch rockets and long-range missiles are highly similar technologies.

"The North Koreans announced that they were going to do a space launch, and I believe that that's what they intend," Blair told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said Thursday that the country had informed the IMO as well as the International Civil Aviation Organization and others "of necessary information for the safe navigation of planes and ships" amid preparations for a satellite launch.

It did not say when the launch would take place, but South Korea cited the dates April 4-8.

Reports began emerging in February that North Korea was preparing to test a long-range missile. It has since described the launch as part of a legitimate and peaceful space program, and has vowed to retaliate against anyone who tries to prevent it.

North Korea's launch plans have stoked already tense relations with the United States and South Korea. North Korea accuses them of preparing for an invasion with annual military drills taking place this week, a charge they deny.

South Korea's two main airlines began redirecting flights away from North Korean airspace last week after the North threatened Seoul's passenger planes in protest over the annual exercises.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said "a range of options" are available if North Korea fires a missile.

She said Wednesday that the U.S., South Korea, Russia, Japan and China will discuss a response if the North goes forward with a missile test. The five countries are involved in the disarmament talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear programs.

The KCNA report said the country recently joined two U.N. treaties on space exploration, which "will contribute to promoting international confidence and boosting cooperation in the scientific research into space and the satellite launch for peaceful purposes."

Gong Hyeon C., an official at the state-run Korea Aerospace Research Institute, said most countries planning to conduct a satellite launch notify the ICAO and IMO, which then relay the plans to individual airlines and shipping companies.

Asiana Airlines Inc. and the Korea Shipowners' Association said they have not received any notification of North Korean launch plans.

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