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2009/03/19 10:35 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWS LETTER NO. 46 (March 19, 2009)

   *** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

N.K. Informs International Organizations of Satellite Launch in April

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- After repeated indications for weeks, North Korea gave notice to two international organizations last week that it will launch a satellite between April 4-8, prompting brisk talks among regional countries to prepare coordinated measures.

   South Korea and its allies have repeatedly warned Pyongyang to abstain from the provocative act. But the North snubbed the warning and recently gave notice to the U.S. through its diplomatic mission in New York that it will launch a rocket in early April sometime between 11:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Seoul time).

   Pyongyang's state media said March 12 it has informed the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) of the planned launch, without specifying the date. The IMO confirmed it has received a letter from Pyongyang that said the launch would be between April 4-8. "IMO can confirm that it has received a communication from the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (DPRK/ North Korea) concerning the intended launch of an experimental communications satellite," the London-based agency said in an e-mailed statement.

   In London, the IMO circulated a message to its member states to notify them of the North's plans to fire a Kwangmyongsong-2 rocket between 2 and 7 a.m. (GMT) between those dates, adding information on possible landing points of the boosters in the Pacific Ocean and the East Sea between Korea and Japan.

   Seoul officials said the North Korean rocket would be directed over the East Sea and the Pacific, citing information on the orbiting coordinates they received from the international agencies earlier on March 12.

   North Korea also said March 12 it has joined two international treaties for space development -- the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. However, entry was not necessary, as non-member states can also launch a satellite. "The DPRK's accession to the said treaty and convention will contribute to promoting international confidence and boosting cooperation in scientific research into space and the satellite launch for peaceful purposes," the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

   North Korea has said it will consider any interception of its rocket by the U.S. or Japan an act of war. A U.S. aircraft carrier group -- including an Aegis destroyer capable of detecting and intercepting ballistic missiles -- has been positioned off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula as part of annual military drills with South Korea. The North also provided the ICAO and the IMO with details on its planned rocket launch, including the projected coordinates.

   Of the two potential danger areas identified, one is in waters off Japan's northwestern coast and the other is in the Pacific, according to a map released by ICAO. The map shows that if successful, a multi-stage rocket from a base on the North's east coast would fly over Japan after shedding its first booster in the East Sea. South Korean and Japanese authorities prepared to take safety measures for their ships and airliners during the notified period.

   The North's renewed missile activity was first detected in early February 2006 at a base on its northeastern coast, when it fired a long-range Taepodong-2 missile that plunged into the water about 40 seconds after lift-off. Intelligence officials said the test was an apparent failure.

   Countries in the region suspect North Korea may launch a long-range missile under the cloak of a satellite launch. Officials say the technologies involved in launching a missile and a satellite are virtually the same. Last week, the North's military warned that any foreign attempt to shoot down the rocket would lead to a war on the Korean Peninsula, insisting it has the full right to peaceful space development.

   Although neighboring countries are opposed to the North Korean satellite launch, there are signs of a rift in handling it. South Korean officials said the launch -- whether it is a satellite or a missile -- would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution banning the North's ballistic missile activity. The resolution was adopted after its nuclear and missile tests in 2006.

   China and Russia, however, are expected to shy away from imposing further sanctions if the North launches a satellite instead of a ballistic missile, as they greatly diluted possible sanctions in 2006 as veto-wielding members of the Security Council.

   In a stern response, South Korea's foreign minister warned on March 13 that North Korea would face U.N.-led sanctions regardless of whether it fires a missile or a space vehicle. Yu Myung-hwan pointed out that all related nations have expressed opposition to the North's move, which is certain to damage the already troubled effort to denuclearize North Korea.

   "Since North Korea's act is in violation of U.N. Resolution 1718, it should be halted," ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said in the statement. The U.N. resolution, adopted unanimously in 2006 after Pyongyang conducted missile and nuclear tests, prohibits the North from engaging in any type of ballistic missile program.

   The U.S. kept up its pressure on North Korea on March 13, urging once again that it refrain from launching a rocket -- either military or scientific -- but stopped short of specifying a response to any such action. "As to what will happen and when things happen, I'll have to leave that for a future discussion," State Department deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid said in a daily news briefing. "Most interpret a launch, as well, as being a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718.

   U.S. President Barack Obama has expressed concerns over the North's imminent rocket launch, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has mentioned "a range of options" that include additional sanctions by the U.N. Security Council. "The president also highlighted the risks posed by North Korea's missile program," the White House said in a statement on March 12 issued at the end of Obama's meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

   Obama also pledged to continue the six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions. "The president expressed appreciation for the important role China has played as the chair of the six-party talks," the statement said. "He said we will continue to work with China and other partners in the six-party process to verifiably eliminate North Korea's nuclear program."

   Obama's remarks on the North Korean missile threat came as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed similar concerns. "I'm concerned about the DPRK's recent move to launch a satellite or long-range missile," Ban said in a news conference at the U.N. headquarters in New York. "This will threaten peace and stability in the region."

   Ban's remarks came one day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed missile talks with North Korea at the end of a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. She also called for early resumption of the six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear ambitions. Clinton on March 11 stressed the "need to have a conversation about missiles," saying, "We would like to see it be part of the discussion with North Korea."

   Clinton discussed "a range of options," including additional sanctions by the U.N. Security Council, which adopted a resolution in 2006 to sanction the North's ballistic missile launch that year.

   China, North Korea's staunch communist ally, and Russia, however, appear to be reluctant to join the U.S. in sanctioning any satellite launch by the North as they, along with the U.S., are the countries most frequently launching satellites for commercial as well as military purposes.

   But Russia took a more cautious stance. "Let us see when things really happen, and then make conclusions and assessment," Russia's Vice Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin, who serves as Moscow's chief nuclear envoy, told Yonhap after meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan in Seoul on March 12.

   Critics are skeptical of claims by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior officials that the U.S. has the capability to shoot down any ballistic missile coming from North Korea, citing technological shortfalls and political ramifications.

   The U.S. engaged in missile talks with North Korea under the Bill Clinton administration in the late 1990s, when North Korea shocked the world by launching a rocket to put a satellite into orbit. Debris from the booster fell into waters off Alaska.

   The missile talks faltered at that time, as North Korea demanded US$1 billion per year in return for suspending the development and shipment of missiles and parts to Iran, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

   President Clinton pledged to visit Pyongyang to conclude the missile and nuclear talks, but did not do that in his waning months in office in late 2000, citing a lack of time, only to see successor George W. Bush ignore all agreements with North Korea as part of a tougher stance toward the isolated communist state.