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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 238 (Nov. 29, 2012)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

North Korea May Launch Long-range Missile in Next Two Months

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A tense situation has developed recently on speculation that North Korea may fire a long-range missile in the next two months, despite the objections of the international community.

   Military sources in Seoul said Nov. 27 that the socialist nation is in the final stage of preparations for a missile launch. "(The South Korean military) is judging that there is a high possibility of (the North's) firing off the missile between December and January."

   The development comes months after North Korea carried out a failed rocket launch in April in what the socialist state said was an attempt to put a satellite into orbit from the same launch pad.

   Citing U.S. satellite images, a senior military official said, requesting anonymity, "After the long-range missile parts were transported to the Tongchang-ri missile launch site early this month, apparent signs of preparations for a missile launch were spotted."

   Images taken by U.S. satellites showed a marked increase in activity at the missile launch site at North Korea's northwestern tip, suggesting the country is stepping up preparations for a long-range ballistic missile test.

   On Nov. 23, Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that U.S. satellites had picked up images of transports carrying what are believed to be missile-related materials toward the Tongchang-ri launch site early this month.

   North Korea moved missile parts from its military factory in Pyongyang to the launch pad in Tongchang-ri early in November, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

   DigitalGlobe said the recent activity is similar to launch preparations witnessed before the North's botched April 13 launch.

   "Given the observed level of activity noted of a new tent, trucks, people and numerous portable fuel tanks ... it could possibly conduct its fifth satellite launch event during the next three weeks," DigitalGlobe said.

   DigitalGlobe's analysis is in line with South Korea's announcement last week that the North appears to be preparing to launch a new long-range missile from the site.

   According to the Japanese paper, U.S. satellites recently detected images of cargo believed to be missile parts similar to those seen before the April launch, and Pyongyang could be technically ready to fire a missile as early as this month.

   North Korea has repeatedly expressed its willingness to continue to launch "working satellites," claiming its independent right to use space.

   In recent weeks, North Korea has stepped up its propaganda rhetoric in an apparent attempt to influence South Korea's presidential election, and there have been concerns Pyongyang could stage fresh provocations to affect the polls.

   On Nov. 27, Seoul's Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin held a meeting with 150 commanders and senior military officials to review North Korea's missile preparations and the latest developments in the communist nation.

   During the biannual meeting, Kim told the commanders to maintain tight security to deter any threats from the North.

   "After the power transition, (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un will continue to strengthen his grip on power and maintain his hard-line stance on the South," the minister was quoted as saying during the closed-door meeting. "(The regime) will continue to intensify control and monitoring to quell complaints at home."

   Cooperation between the two Koreas can come into play only when Seoul's military takes the initiative, Kim said, ordering retaliation against threats from the North.

   In response to Pyongyang's suspicious moves, the South Korean government is stepping up diplomatic efforts to force the socialist country to give up any attempt to launch a long-range missile.

   "We are closely watching the developments in North Korea, and cooperating with the countries concerned," Seoul's foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young told reporters on Nov. 27, while declining to elaborate.

   On Nov. 26, the vice foreign ministers of South Korea and China held annual strategic talks, during which the two sides reaffirmed efforts for "the denuclearization of North Korea and peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

   Diplomatic sources said China is obviously opposed to North Korea's firing of a long-range rocket as it would not be helpful for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula or Northeast Asia.

   A Chinese government official said although any country is vested with rights for the peaceful use of space, the rights should be exercised under international norms and regulations.

   Referring to the North's possible move to launch a new rocket, China's foreign ministry reportedly said Beijing is paying keen attention to the reports.

   China in last April approved the chairman's statement of the U.N. Security Council strengthening sanctions on the North's provocations.

   However, North Korea has reiterated its plan to continue launches.

   "We will expand the institutions for space development and go through with launches of working satellites of all kinds essential for the economic development of the country," the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted the country's delegate to the United Nations as saying in a plenary meeting last week.

   The KCNA said the country will continue to exercise its independent right to use space, which, the report said, stands above the United Nations' resolution and is recognized by international law.

   The country also expressed its intention to continue to carry out satellite launches in a United Nations meeting in October, despite foreign nations' condemnation of the April test.

   The United States has thus far kept mum on the possibility of an imminent missile launch by North Korea.

   The U.S. silence is in contrast with continued intelligence leaks by South Korean and Japanese officials on Pyongyang's missile activities.

   "I'm obviously not going to comment on intelligence issues," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing on Nov. 27. "I'm talking about any intelligence we might have about any DPRK (North Korea) intentions."

   Nuland went on to emphasize that Pyongyang is banned from any activity tied to ballistic missile launches under U.N. Security Council resolutions.

   "We would, of course, again take this opportunity to remind the DPRK of the U.N. Security Council statement of April, which explicitly demanded that the DPRK not proceed with any further launches using ballistic missile technology," she said.

   Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, strongly criticized North Korea over the reported missile launch preparations.

   "North Korea's preparation for a long-range ballistic missile launch in the coming weeks is just another example of the Kim regime's anti-peace agenda," she said in a statement.

   Ros-Lehtinen claimed the failure of the Barack Obama administration's Feb. 29 deal with North Korea has become apparent and she demanded stricter sanctions on Pyongyang.

   Under the so-called Leap Day Deal, the U.S. agreed to ship 240,000 tons of food aid to the North. In return, Pyongyang promised to suspend some of its nuclear and missile programs and allow the return of international inspectors to its main nuclear site.

   The agreement ended when North Korea fired a long-range rocket in April.

   Ros-Lehtinen said, "We must impose strict sanctions on Pyongyang to cut off its financial resources and tighten the noose on those who assist the regime's weapons proliferation efforts."

   A day earlier, the U.S. government said it had no "new" information on North Korea's possible preparations for another long-range rocket launch.

   "We don't have anything new at the moment," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing. "We've seen the same rumblings and press reportings that you've seen."

   She also refused to confirm a separate report that Japan intercepted a Myanmar-bound ship in August carrying North Korea-made materials to be used for uranium enrichment or missile development.

   The Asahi Shimbun reported that the country's authorities seized around 50 metal pipes and 15 high-specification aluminum alloy bars from the ship en route to Myanmar.

   If true, it would mean Myanmar, which has been getting incentives from the U.S. for its move towards democracy, maintained illicit transactions with North Korea at least until the summer.

   "It was a single report in a Japanese newspaper," Nuland said. "We have not been able to confirm that report, nor have we been able to confirm that we've been notified by the Japanese as the report asserts."

   Nuland's remarks puzzled some reporters as the U.S. has openly said it shares information on North Korea with its regional allies -- South Korea and Japan -- for close policy coordination.

  (END)
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