North Korean leader Kim Jong-un looks at a map with military officials during a visit to a unit on Ryo Islet in Gangwon Province, during which he ordered troops to “kill all enemies” if provoked at sea, in this photo released by state media Thursday. / Yonhap
By Kim Young-jin
North Korea could very well succeed in its bid to launch a satellite into orbit on a long-range rocket, an expert said Thursday, citing the Stalinist state’s suspected cooperation with Iran on missile technology.
Slated for between April 12 and 16, Pyongyang says the satellite is for purposes of science. But the plan has sent tensions soaring as Seoul and Washington believe it is thinly-veiled cover for a long range missile test.
The North has twice tried to send a satellite into orbit but Western observers say both failed, most recently in 2009, when the third stage of its Unha-2 rocket failed to ignite, according to experts. It is suspected to roll out a modified version of that rocket for the launch this month.
Yun Duk-min, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said the North’s suspected missile cooperation with Tehran made success “highly likely” this time around, given Tehran’s 2009 launching of a satellite atop its Safir 2 rocket.
“The two countries have worked closely together. This, in addition to the information that North Korea gained from its previous launches, makes it highly likely they will succeed this time,” he said over the phone.
Many in the international community are worried that the test could further the North in a bid to build a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead as far as the United States.
Pyongyang and Tehran have long been suspected of swapping missile parts and technology and that the cooperation was particularly high during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
Washington has claimed that the North has assisted Tehran on its ballistic missile program. In 2006, former undersecretary of state for arms control Robert Joseph said Pyongyang had been “the principal supplier to Iran of ballistic missile technologies.” The Arms Control Association reported that Iran's Shahab-3 missile is based on North Korean technology.
The North’s rocket is expected to be launched from its new site in Dongchang-ri in the northwest part of the country and fly south before landing somewhere off the shores of the Philippines.
Sheila Smith, a senior analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the launch will trigger a strong U.S. response, success of failure, setting up potential tensions with China.
Beijing, Pyongyang’s closest ally, protested the deployment of a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to the West Sea for military drills with the South in response to the deadly 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.
“It will therefore evoke an alliance response for the U.S.-ROK alliance, the U.S.-Japan alliance and the U.S.-Philippine alliance,” Smith said at a forum this week. “You will find that the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the sea between Japan and Philippines will be very full in and around the time the missile test happens. Beijing cannot be very comfortable with this turn of events.”
The North’s move has already brought a strong response from the international community. In addition to Seoul and Washington, Tokyo and Moscow have said the launch would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions, while China said it was working to persuade its ally to refrain.
Analysts suspect the launch is tied to the regime’s efforts to bolster the reputation of the inexperienced Kim Jong-un, who is taking power after the December death of his father, Kim Jong-il. Some also say it is part of Pyongyang’s efforts to sell missile technology.