NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 47 (March 26, 2009) |
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)
N.K. Intransigent on Rocket Launch, Threatens to Quit Six-party Talks
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- In the face of international concern and repeated warnings, North Korea is moving to launch what it insists is a communications satellite into orbit early next month. The situation has been tangled further by the apparently different countermeasures neighboring countries intend to take.
The United States and its allies, South Korea and Japan, see the launch as cover for a ballistic missile test, arguing that the delivery mechanism for the two is identical and warning of possible additional sanctions to those imposed under a U.N. resolution in 2006 that bans the North from any ballistic missile activity.
But North Korea warned on March 24 any move to impose further sanctions via the United Nations as a result of the test would lead to it quitting the six-party nuclear talks and retaining its atomic weapons.
Such attempts by Japan and the U.S. "run counter to the 'spirit of mutual respect and equality' enshrined in the September 19 joint statement on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," a spokesman of the North's Foreign Ministry said, referring to a 2005 accord reached at the six-party talks.
North Korea's other dialogue partners in the six-way nuclear disarmament talks, China and Russia, take a more cautious approach. The North's allies have long advocated universal rights to space development.
The talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear program involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia. "The abrogation of the said statement would deprive the six-party talks of any ground to exist or their meaning," the unnamed North Korean spokesman said. The six-party talks have been stalled since the latest round broke down in December due to a dispute over how to verify North Korea's past nuclear activity.
The spokesman rejected the argument that the technologies used to launch a satellite and a missile are indistinguishable. The U.S. and Japan have already put their own satellites into space, meaning they have more advanced missile technology, the spokesman noted.
"The brigandish logic that they may launch as many satellites as they please but the DPRK (North Korea) should not be allowed to do so is a revelation of hostility towards it," he said. "The above-said assertion made by those countries is just the same far-fetched assertion that both kitchen knives and bayonets should be targets of disarmament as both are similar to each other," he said.
The warning came as South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Wi Sung-lac, met with China's Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei in Beijing and called for a coordinated approach to the North Korean rocket launch. But the envoy acknowledged the two countries have slightly different stances.
The North's dialogue partners in the six-way nuclear disarmament talks have continued efforts to dissuade Pyongyang from firing a missile, but they are now leaning towards contingency plans, Wi said. Chief nuclear negotiators of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan are to get together in Washington on March 27 to discuss ways to persuade North Korea to abstain from the launch.
North Korea said the six-party talks are already "in danger of collapse" because of Japan, which refuses to provide its share of energy aid promised to North Korea under the six-nation deal. Tokyo demands that the North first account for Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang over past decades. About 70 percent of the promised one million tons of fuel oil has been delivered to North Korea.
Last week, Choson Sinbo, a Tokyo-based newspaper that conveys Pyongyang's position, warned of North Korea's boycott of the six-party talks should the Barack Obama administration resort to sanctions, but also said the North will respond if the U.S. proposes dialogue.
Already, North Korea has notified U.N. agencies it will put its communications satellite Kwangmyongsong-2 into orbit, warning that any foreign attempt to shoot down the satellite will lead to a war on the Korean Peninsula.
Intelligence sources on March 25 said that North Korea is preparing for the rocket launch at the launch site at Musudan-ri, Hwadae County, North Hamgyong Province and the rocket will be loaded at the launch pad by the end of this month. South Korean intelligence officials expect North Korea to mount the rocket on the launch pad as early as this weekend for fuel injection.
But a U.S. broadcaster reported March 25 that North Korea has already put a rocket on the launch pad toward an imminent countdown. "North Korea has positioned a Taepodong-2 missile on the launch pad at its facility in Musudan in the east of the country," NBC News reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials. "According to the U.S. officials, while two stages of the missile can be seen, the top is covered with a shroud supported by a crane."
U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Gordon Duguid, however, said that he could not confirm the report "because I do not have that information."
Japanese news agency, Jiji Press, recently reported that the North's rocket launch will likely take place April 4 unless there is bad weather or mechanical failure at the last moment of firing.
On April 20, the Japanese daily, Sankei Shimbun, reported the frequent movement of trucks loaded with rocket engine vehicles were detected at the Musudan-ri launching pad. Citing diplomatic sources from the U.S. and Japan, the daily said the preparation for the rocket launch is at its final stage.
Another Japanese newspaper, the Mainich Shimbun, reported that Japanese government will issue an order this month to destroy the North Korean missile if it flies into Japanese territory or territorial waters under the country's self-defense law.
While the North is preparing all necessary steps, the United Nations agencies on aviation and shipping safety have already taken steps to clear the airspace and waters during the launch period. South Korean intelligence sources expect a missile to be mounted on the launch pad as early as this weekend for fuel injection at the launching base.
Seoul officials said March 21 that North Korea has informed South Korean air traffic control that it will temporarily close two air routes between April 4-8. One is a route between North Korea and Vladivostok, Russia, while the other is between North Korea and Japan.
Given the situation, South Korea may fully join a U.S.-led anti-proliferation campaign to protest North Korea's development of missile and nuclear weapons technology, its defense spokesman said on March 20. "It could be a form of protest that can pressure North Korea," Won Tae-jae said, speaking to reporters at the Ministry of National Defense.
South Korea has participated in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative as an observer since 2005. The previous liberal administration limited its role because it did not want to strain its ties with North Korea, one of the campaign's prime targets.
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee said last month his country may now need to expand its participation in the PSI. "Under these circumstances, in which North Korea is developing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons, it is time for South Korea to reconsider its participation in the PSI," he said at a parliamentary hearing.
Meanwhile, the U.S. sees North Korea's missile and other threats as a negotiating tactic to up the ante in multilateral nuclear talks, the commander of the U.S. forces in Korea said March 24.
"North Korea's most recent provocative actions are all an attempt to ensure the regime's survival and improve its bargaining position at international negotiations to gain concessions," Gen. Walter Sharp said in a House Armed Services Committee hearing.
Sharp, also commander of the combined forces of South Korea and the U.S., said the command will "continue to be concerned with the threat posed by North Korea's large conventional military, artillery, ballistic missiles, and special operating forces, all that are located very near the North-South Korean border."
Sharp said North Korea's provocative actions are aimed at securing its regime survival. "Regime survival remains the North Koreans' overriding focus," he said. The commander said the regime appears stable despite North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's reported health failure. "Kim Jong-il is in control," he said.
"He will resort to many different types of provocations to try to ensure regime survival within North Korea, including what he's going to do between the 4th and the 8th of April -- to go against a U.N. Security Council resolution and launch the TD-II." The Taepodong-2 is the North's newest booster.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that the U.S. wants to hold missile talks with North Korea, although she did not elaborate on whether the missile talks should be incorporated with the ongoing nuclear talks. A State Department official, asking anonymity, said that Washington wants to address the missile issue in one way or another.
Frank Jannuzi, professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, told a seminar Monday that the Obama administration wants to revive the missile talks suspended under the Bill Clinton administration.
"If North Korea would not deploy, would not export, would not produce long range missiles, it's cheaper than keeping an aircraft carrier to shoot it down, cheaper than keeping national missile defense in Alaska," he said, referring to North Korea's demand a decade earlier of up to US$1 billion annually in return for such compliance.
North Korea is said to be a major provider of missiles and missile parts to Syria, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries.
The missile talks were the outcome of North Korea's launch of its first Taepodong ballistic missile over Japan in 1998, which shocked the Clinton administration when the debris fell into seas off Alaska.