North Korea ready to launch rocket
By Kim Young-jin
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta labeled North Korea’s rocket launch as a “grave act of provocation” Tuesday as the Stalinist country completed its preparation for what it claims is an effort to send its Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite into orbit.
According to Seoul officials, the two agreed that it would be tantamount to a long-distance missile test and would be subject to sanctions for a violation of U.N Security Council (UNSC) resolutions and related international agreements.
The two also agreed to jointly deal with the North’s provocation resolutely.
The government said maritime traffic control centers will be on heightened readiness to give navigation warnings to protect ships off the west and southwestern coasts.
Meanwhile, North Korea said all preparations have been made for the planned satellite launch, during a press conference that included foreign journalists invited to witness the act.
``All the assembly and preparations of the satellite launch are done,'' Ryu Kum-chol, deputy director of the North’s Space Development Department of the Korean Committee for Space Technology, said.
While Pyongyang claims the launch is for peaceful purposes and ties it to the 100th anniversary of the birth of its late founder Kim Il-sung, it is widely seen as a way to advance its long-range missile program.
The North’s claim is in line with the latest satellite imagery, which showed that the three-stage Unha-3 rocket had been placed on a launch pad in the country’s northwest region.
The plan has sent tensions soaring. The Lee Myung-bak administration was in high gear preparing its response.
“If the North launches its long-range rocket, our government, in close coordination with the global community, will take such a provocative action seriously and respond with appropriate countermeasures,” the Ministry of Unification said in a statement.
This came after a high-level security meeting involving the ministers of foreign affairs, defense, and unification and top presidential advisors.
Tokyo and Moscow also said the launch would violate UNSC resolutions.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said the matter would “certainly” be taken up by the security council.
"From the perspective of the U.N., North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket…is a clear breach of UNSC resolution 1874," he said. “I think it is certain the issue will be discussed by the UNSC.”
That view was backed by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who told CNN Monday the launch would be a “blatant violation” of resolutions 1718 and 1874.
Observers are closely watching China’s handling of the situation as it has a history of protecting its neighbor from international censure, including after Pyongyang’s two deadly attacks against the South in 2010. Beijing is a permanent member of the UNSC and holds veto power.
Analysts say the launch aims to help bolster the power of new leader Kim Jong-un, who took over after the recent death of his father Kim Jong-il, warning that the regime could carry out a third nuclear test in the near future.
The North, which walked out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is believed to posses several nuclear warheads and regularly threatens to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.” It has credited Kim Jong-il for developing the program as his legacy.