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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 242 (Dec. 27, 2012)

Experts Voice Skepticism over Operations of N. Korea's Satellite

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The "working satellite" that North Korea launched into orbit earlier December does not seem to be working properly despite the North's claims that it is functioning, according to a local scientist on Dec. 21.

   On Dec. 12, the North fired off a long-range rocket, aimed at sending the working satellite into orbit. The outside world condemned the launch as cover for testing rocket technology used for launching long-range missiles.

   The North has since said that the satellite, the second version of the Kwangmyongsong-3, can properly communicate with a control center on land, but no evidence of this has been found.

   The North American Aerospace Defense Command, a joint organization between the U.S. and Canadian Air Forces, has also confirmed the rocket "deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit" right after the early-morning launch.

   Bucking the North's claims, however, the South Korean scientist said the North Korean satellite seems to be in unstable condition and not in good contact with an on-land control center, a critical sign in determining the success of a satellite launch.

   "It appears that there still is no contact between the satellite and the (control center)," Korea Aerospace Research Institute researcher Cho Gwang-rae said, indicating that the satellite is not functioning.

   It's also hard to believe the satellite would have normal operations as it may not have the ability to self-control its positioning there, he said.

   The researcher said the North regime most likely knows the exact conditions of the satellite as the success of a satellite launch can generally be determined within 24 hours after liftoff.

   Seoul's defense ministry has previously said the North Korean satellite is circling the Earth's orbit, but it needs to be seen to determine whether it is properly functioning.

   U.S. scientists and officials have also expressed skepticism over proper functioning of the satellite in previous media interviews, raising the possibility that the satellite has broken away from orbit.


S. Korea Retrieves Three More Pieces of N. Korea's Rocket Debris

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The South Korean Navy has retrieved three more pieces of debris from North Korea's long-range rocket on the west coast, Seoul's defense ministry said on Dec. 23, hoping they would provide more knowledge about the communist nation's missile technology.

   Pyongyang fired off a three-stage "Unha 3" rocket on Dec. 12, claiming that it has succeeded in putting a satellite into orbit. The first stage of the rocket fell into the Yellow Sea off South Korea's west coast and the second stage in waters near the Philippines.

   After the Navy collected the upper part of the first stage two days after the firing, it salvaged three more pieces from its lower part, which included a fuel tank inscribed with the number "3," a combustion chamber and an engine connection rod, the ministry said.

   A minesweeper equipped with the sonar system detected the parts in waters 151 kilometers west of the southwestern city of Gunsan and 85 meters below the sea, it said.

   "As the additional pieces are salvaged, we will be able to look deeper into the function and structure of North Korea's long-range rocket," a senior ministry official said.

   With the latest finding, Seoul has collected key components of the first-stage, except for the engines.

   After examining the 3.2-ton wreckage with the sign "Unha" written in Korean on it, a joint investigation team on Sunday concluded that the wreckage is an oxidizer container, which stored red fuming nitric acid, to fuel the rocket's first-stage propellant.

   The storable oxidizer that contains highly toxic chemicals is used by missiles developed by the Soviet Union, which is rarely used by countries with advanced space technology, the team concluded.

   The South Korean findings reinforced suspicions voiced by the U.S. and other Western allies that the North's rocket launch was intended to test its inter-continental ballistic missile technology in violation of U.N. resolutions.


U.N. Debate on N. Korea's Rocket Launch Likely to Be Delayed

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The U.N. Security Council is unlikely to decide on its response to North Korea's recent rocket launch by the end of this month because of China's apparent reluctance to impose new sanctions against the North, Seoul officials said on Dec. 24.

   North Korea's Dec. 12 rocket launch drew swift condemnation from the Security Council, which has pledged to take an "appropriate action" against the North for violating U.N. prohibitions that ban Pyongyang from carrying out any long-range missile development.

   Discussions at the Security Council on the North Korean launch, however, have made little progress as China, the North's closest ally and a veto-wielding council member, has not responded to calls from Seoul and Washington to order tougher sanctions against Pyongyang, said a senior official at Seoul's foreign ministry.

   "Unless there is a significant breakthrough, there will be a high possibility that the discussion at the U.N. Security Council would continue past this month," the official said on the condition of anonymity.

   Another ministry official said there is little appetite on the Chinese side to support new Security Council sanctions against North Korea.

   "China has not delivered its clear-cut opinion about a U.N. action against North Korea," said the official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.

   "At this stage, it will be difficult to judge what kind of response the Security Council would decide," the official said.

   South Korea and the U.S. are asking the Security Council to adopt a tougher punishment in the form of a resolution, rather than a non-binding measure known as a presidential statement, against North Korea.

   China, which has a track record of hindering tougher U.N. measures against North Korea, expressed "regret" over the North's launch, but said any U.N. response to Pyongyang should be "prudent."

   On Sunday, Seoul's defense ministry said, citing its analysis of the North's rocket debris it retrieved, that Pyongyang is believed to have developed a ballistic missile capable of flying more than 10,000 kilometers with a warhead of 500-600 kilograms.

   The estimated range means that a North Korean rocket could reach the U.S. west coast, including San Francisco, according to the defense ministry.

   North Korea is already under U.N. sanctions imposed after its previous nuclear and missile tests. The Security Council imposed its last round of sanctions in 2009 after North Korea conducted its second nuclear test.


Iran Denies Missile Ties with North Korea: Report

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- Iran's top defense official formally denied any missile cooperation with North Korea, a news report said on Dec. 24.

   "Recent claims made by certain countries about missile cooperation between Iran and North Korea are merely speculations," Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi was quoted as saying.

   China's Xinhua news agency picked up his comments as reported by a local TV station.

   There have been media reports that Iranian defense officials recently visited North Korea for bilateral missile cooperation.

   The Iranian defense chief, however, said Teheran has never dispatched any official to Pyongyang for military cooperation, according to the report.

   The U.S. and its allies have long suspected military ties between North Korea and Iran.

   Shortly after North Korea's successful rocket launch earlier December, a ranking Iranian military official sent a formal congratulatory message to Pyongyang.

   Masoud Jazayeri, deputy head of the Iranian Joint Chiefs of Staff, "warmly congratulated" the government and people of North Korea on their successful launch, Pyongyang's official news agency, the KCNA, reported at the time.

   "History shows that if independent countries make persistent efforts, standing unfazed by anyone's influence, they can rapidly advance toward the road of progress and independence in the field of science and technology with self-confidence," he was quoted as saying. "Hegemonic states like the United States are incapable of blocking the progress of independent states."


N. Korea to Unveil Embalmed Body of Late Leader Early Next Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is expected to unveil the embalmed body of late leader Kim Jong-il for public viewing more than a year after the leader died of a sudden heart attack, according to a tourist agency in China on Dec. 26.

   The Web site of Young Pioneer Tours, a tourist agency based in China and catering to foreign travelers to the North, said the body laid in the family mausoleum in Pyongyang will be open for public viewing starting in January.

   "The Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, formerly known as the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, will be open from January to tourists, and will include the embalmed bodies of both President Kim Il-sung, and now for the first time for the public General Kim Jong-il," according to the Web site.

   Following the Dec. 17 death of Kim Jong-il, North Korea watchers have speculated on when the public would be able to view his preserved body. One year after Kim Il-sung's death in 1994, a limited range of North Koreans were able to view his embalmed body, with complete public viewing allowed the following year.

   Observing the ceremony marking the first anniversary of Kim Jong-il's death earlier this month, the North broadcast images of the family mausoleum, but did not air images of Kim's embalmed body.