(Photo: Reuters/KRT via Reuters TV)
North Korea announced Saturday plans to launch another satellite this month to mark the first death anniversary of the nation's longtime ruler Kim Jong-il. Seen as cover for an intercontinental ballistic missile test, the planned exercise is drawing harsh criticism from the United States and its allies.
North Korea "plans to launch another working satellite, which has been manufactured true to the behest of great leader comrade Kim Jong Il with our own efforts and our own technology," Korean Central News Agency quoted the Korean Committee for Space Technology as saying in a statement on Saturday, days before Kim Jong-un completes one year in office as the nation's supreme leader.
The launch of Unha-3 rocket from the Sohae Space Center in North Phyongan Province will take place between Dec. 10 and 22, the statement said.
"A North Korean 'satellite' launch would be a highly provocative act that threatens peace and security in the region," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland responded in a statement on Saturday. "Any North Korean launch using ballistic missile technology is in direct violation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions," she said.
"Devoting scarce resources to the development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles will only further isolate and impoverish North Korea," Nuland added. "The path to security for North Korea lies in investing in its people and abiding by its commitments and international obligations."
Scientists and technicians analyzed the mistakes that were made during the previous April launch and enhanced the work of improving the reliability and precision of the satellite and carrier rocket, thereby rounding off the preparations for launch, the North's space technology committee said.
South Korea also expressed "serious concern" over the planned launch. The country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Saturday said it was a "long-range missile test in the name of working satellite," and warned that "it will be faced with a strong response." "The launch is a severe provocation as it is ignoring the concern and warning from the international community and is a direct challenge to the international community as a whole," the ministry's statement said.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague joined in condemning the planned exercise. "Failure to do so [abandon the project] must lead to a further response by the international community, and will damage the prospects for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," he said in a statement.
Kim Jong-un's father Kim Jong-Il died on Dec. 17 last year, and his first death anniversary is perhaps being used as a pretext for the launch.
"For Kim Jong-un, a successful rocket launching may be the best he can think of to show his achievements in his first year in power," Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul and a visiting scholar in international studies at Johns Hopkins University, told New York Times.
The North has launched several long-range rockets in the last one and a half decades. It is believed that most of the rockets either exploded in midair or failed to put satellites into orbit. However, North Korea claims partial success in its stated goal.