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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 240 (Dec. 13, 2012)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

North Korea Launches Three-stage Long-range Rocket, Claims a Success

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Dec. 12 fired off a long-range rocket defying international pressure over the plan, which has been seen as a test of the country's ballistic missile technology. North Korea announced that the rocket launch was a success, saying what it claims to be a scientific satellite has entered orbit.

   "The second version of satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 successfully lifted off from the Sohae Space Center by carrier rocket Unha-3 on Dec. 12," the official (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a report at 11:23 a.m. "The satellite entered its preset orbit."

   In a surprise move, the North launched the three-stage rocket from the Donchang-ri launch site at 9:51 a.m. (KST), with its first stage falling into the Yellow Sea, and what appears to be its second stage landing in waters near the Philippines, according to South Korean officials.

   "Shortly after the liftoff, Aegis radar system in the Yellow Sea detected the move," a South Korean military official said. Since the North's announcement of the rocket launch, the South Korean military has deployed three Aegis warships, equipped with SPY-1 radar with a range of 1,000 kilometers, along the west coast and in southern waters to track the rocket's path.

   Earlier on Dec. 10, North Korea said that it was extending the 13-day launch window by one week until Dec. 29 to fix a "technical deficiency" in the rocket's first-stage control engine module.

   The secretive nation has long claimed that it has the right to the peaceful use of space and that the rocket launch was to put a scientific satellite into orbit. But South Korea, the United States, Japan and other countries have denounced the launch as a disguised ballistic missile test and in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from any ballistic activity because it can be used to develop missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

   In a statement, South Korea "strongly" condemned North Korea's rocket launch as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, saying the communist nation will have to bear "grave responsibility" and face deeper isolation.

   "This launch is a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions ... and a threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and around the world," Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said, reading a government statement issued after an emergency meeting of the National Security Council which was presided over by President Lee Myung-bak.

   "Our government strongly condemns North Korea pushing ahead with this provocation in disregard of repeated warnings and demands from the international community that the launch be called off. North Korea will take grave responsibility for this," he said.

   Kim also said the North will be "further isolated" from the international community, and urged the impoverished nation to use its scarce resources to improve the lives of its people rather than wasting them on missile and nuclear programs.

   The U.S. also denounced the rocket launch and warned of consequences. A White House statement called the rocket launch a "highly provocative act" and warned that it will have to face "consequences" for its violation of UNSC resolutions.

   "North Korea's launch today using ballistic missile technology despite express prohibitions by United Nations Security Council resolutions is a highly provocative act that threatens regional security," White House National Security Council (NSC) spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

   He called for the international community to "work in a concerted fashion to send North Korea a clear message that its violations of the United Nations Security Council resolutions have consequences."

   The UNSC convened an emergency session on the morning of Dec. 12 (Washington time). The U.S. and Japanese governments immediately asked Morocco, chair country of the UNSC, to convene a special session to deal with the North Korean rocket launch, according to reports.

   In a brief statement after the first-day session, the council made clear the Dec. 12 launch violated the existing U.N. resolutions, which ban Pyongyang from conducting any launch using ballistic missile technology. "Members of the Security Council will continue consultations on an appropriate response, given the urgency of the matter," read the statement. China, the ally of North Korea, also was present at the meeting.

   The 15-nation council was in a more serious mood than it had been in April, when a North Korean launch (of a rocket) failed, according to a U.N. diplomat. In April, the council adopted a non-binding presidential statement condemning the North's move.

   Meanwhile, South Korea and the United States agreed to push for a new U.N. resolution against North Korea for its latest rocket launch, heralding another tug-of-war with China and Russia. "A shared perception between South Korea and the U.S. is that there is no other method than adopting a resolution, as North Korea carried out a provocation toward the international community just eight months after its April launch," the diplomat said on the condition of anonymity.

   As with previous cases, China and Russia, which have veto power, are expected to stand in the way of efforts by the U.S. and its allies to take strong actions against Pyongyang.

   If the Security Council agrees to seek a new U.N. resolution, it would set the stage for fierce debates on detailed wording, a process likely to take more than a week. "I believe the Security Council will take appropriate action in a swift and robust manner," said Kim Sook, South Korea's top envoy in the U.N.

   The White House statement did not mention whether the launch was successful or not but the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) earlier said North Korea seems to have succeeded in putting an object into orbit. "Initial indications are that the misssile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit," it said in a statement.

   North Korea's earlier-than-expected launch of what it calls a rocket carrying a satellite has likely been timed to come before the first anniversary of the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Dec. 17 as well as South Korea's presidential election slated for next week, experts in Seoul said on Dec. 12.

   South Korean media and experts had estimated the launch would come far later than Dec. 12 as the North announced on Dec. 10 that it was extending the launch window by a week. The communist country initially said the launch would be carried out between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22.
Experts in Seoul said the "technical deficiency" found in the rocket may have been a minor one, requiring only a short time to fix.

   "It is highly likely that the technical deficiency may have not been that serious since the country speedily proceeded with the launch," said Chang Yong-suk, a researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

   Given that the North has promoted the launch as a dying instruction from the late leader, Pyongyang was probably striving to launch the rocket before the first anniversary of Kim's death next week, experts said.

   Following the launch, North Korean news media, including television and radio stations as well as the KCNA, have been aggressively publicizing the "success" of the launch. The KCNA reported at 11:23 a.m. on Dec. 12, "The second version of satellite Kwangmyongsong-3 successfully lifted off from the Sohae Space Center by carrier rocket Unha-3 and the satellite entered its preset orbit."

   The (North) Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS) made the first report on the success of the launch around 12:06 p.m., immediately after it aired an advance notice of a special report. The KCBS aired follow-up reports almost every hour. It was unusual that the North Korean TV aired a special broadcasting simultaneous with an advance notice.

   North Korean news media for the domestic audience has not made any reports about its launch plan this time although it announced the plan through outbound news outlets. The KCNA said North Korea's mass media organizations have reported the news that the second version of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite was successfully launched from around noon and TV broadcasting vans with big screens are airing reports in the streets of Pyongyang and other major cities. The KCNA said the news of the successful satellite launch has put Pyongyang citizens into tumult of joy, reporting quotes from people through street interviews.

   Meanwhile, the KCBSTV aired some footage of the launching moments around 10:30 p.m. about 13 hours after the launch. The launching scenes show the footage of the white rocket bearing the "Unha-3." The video footage accompanied graphic data like the rocket's flying path, distance, velocity and altitude. The North Korean TV also aired a talk with professors of Kim Il-sung University to explain the details of the rocket and its launch.

   Meanwhile, the recent rocket launch has raised questions over a potential nuclear weapons test in the country.

   Two of Pyongyang's rocket launches, in 2006 and 2009, were followed by nuclear tests in the following months as part of the country's apparent efforts to earn bargaining power in disarmament negotiations.

   Experts said the North could resort to another nuclear test if the country is further cornered by international sanctions and condemnation following the rocket launch this time.

   Seoul indicated that the North is technically ready for another nuclear test, but they have yet to detect any clear signs that a potential test is in the near future.

   The Seoul government has detected two new tunnels in the North's nuclear testing ground in Punggye-ri in the country's northeastern corner, in addition to the two which have been used for previous tests.

   "Another nuclear test cannot be ruled out in case the international community pressures the North with sanctions following the rocket launch," said Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

   Other experts, however, said the country may refrain from further provocation for fear of punishment from the international community.

   The country has already proved its nuclear capability to the world, Chang said, adding "for the latest rocket launch, the country has openly promoted it as an effort to launch a working satellite into orbit."