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Apr 5th, 2009

Defying World, North Korea Fires Rocket Over Japan

U.N. response to North Korea’s rocket launch expected

April 5, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired a rocket over Japan on Sunday, defying Washington, Tokyo and other world leaders who suspect the launch was cover for a test of its long-range missile technology. President Barack Obama warned the move would further isolate the communist nation.

Liftoff took place at 11:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. ET) from the coastal Musudan-ri launch pad in northeastern North Korea, the South Korean and U.S. governments said. The multistage rocket hurtled toward the Pacific, reaching Japanese airspace within seven minutes, but no debris appeared to hit its territory, officials in Tokyo said.

The U.N. Security Council approved an emergency session for Sunday afternoon in New York, following a request from Japan that came just minutes after the launch.

Bold act of defiance

Sunday’s move was a bold act of defiance against President Barack Obama, Japanese leader Taro Aso, Hu Jintao of China and others who pressed Pyongyang in the days leading up to liftoff to call off a launch they said would threaten peace and stability in Northeast Asia. …

North Korea claims its aim is to send an experimental “Kwangmyongsong-2 communications satellite into orbit in a peaceful bid to develop its space program.

The U.S., South Korea, Japan and others suspect the launch is a guise for testing the regime’s long-range missile technology – one step toward eventually mounting a nuclear weapon on a missile capable of reaching Alaska and beyond.

They contend the launch violates a U.N. Security Council resolution barring the regime from ballistic missile activity, part of efforts to force North Korea to shelve its nuclear program and halt long-range missile tests.

State Department spokesman Fred Lash called the launch a clear violation of Resolution 1718, adopted five days after North Korea carried out a nuclear weapons test in 2006. The U.S. will “take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that it cannot threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity,” he said late Saturday in Washington.

Japan requests U.N. meeting

Japan’s U.N. mission immediately requested a meeting of the 15-nation council Sunday, spokesman Yutaka Arima said. Mexico’s mission to the United Nations set the meeting for 3 p.m. ET, spokesman Marco Morales said. Mexico holds the 15-nation council’s presidency this month.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon regretted North Korea’s move “against strong international appeal” at a time when nuclear disarmament talks involving six nations remain stalled. …

In Seoul, an unnamed government official told the Yonhap news agency the trajectory of the rocket suggests it was mounted with a satellite but said it was unclear whether the bid to get the satellite into orbit was successful. …

The first stage of the rocket dropped about 75 miles off the western coast of Akita into the waters between Japan and the Korean peninsula. The second stage was aimed for the Pacific at a spot about 790 miles off Japan’s northeastern coast, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman said in Tokyo. …

North Korea, one of the world’s poorest nations, is led with absolute authority by leader Kim Jong Il, who is poised to preside over the first session of the country’s new parliament on Thursday. The appearance will be his first major public appearance since reportedly suffering a stroke last August. …


4/6/09 Update

Analysts: North Korean Launch Not a Total Failure

April 6, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s rocket may have fallen into the sea, but military experts cautioned Monday against calling it a complete failure, noting that it traveled twice as far as any missile the country has launched.

Although the distance was still far short of showing North Korea could reach U.S. territory, it rattled the North’s neighbors and countries around the globe, with the U.S. and its allies pushing for quick punishment at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting held hours after liftoff.

The launch, which demonstrated progress, is a particularly worrying development for a belligerent country that says it has nuclear weapons and once threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.”

President Barack Obama, faced with his first global security crisis, called for an international response and condemned North Korea for threatening the peace and stability of nations “near and far” with what Pyongyang claimed was a satellite launch and its neighbors suspect was a test of a long-range missile technology.

“North Korea broke the rules, once again, by testing a rocket that could be used for long-range missiles,” Obama said in Prague. “This provocation underscores the need for action, not just … in the U.N. Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons.” …

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il personally observed the launch, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Monday, expressing “great satisfaction” with the achievement. …

But U.S. and South Korean officials claim the entire rocket, including whatever payload it carried, ended up in the ocean after Sunday’s launch. South Korean officials said the rocket’s second stage landed in waters about 1,900 miles from the northeastern North Korean launch site.

That is double the distance a rocket managed in 1998 and far better than a 2006 launch of a long-range missile that fizzled just 42 seconds after liftoff. Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Mongolia and many parts of China now are within striking range, but Anchorage, Alaska, is roughly 3,500 miles from the launch site and the U.S. mainland much farther away.

Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, said that while the rocket’s first stage successfully broke away, it appears the second and third stages failed to separate or had difficulty doing so.

“So it has to call into question the dependability and reliability of the system,” he said. “They’re still a long ways off” from being able to successfully target and strike the United States, he said.

But Kim Tae-woo, an analyst at Seoul’s state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said the launch raises the stakes at stalled disarmament talks because Pyongyang now has more to bargain away.

“Militarily and politically, it’s not a failure” because “North Korea demonstrated a greatly enhanced range,” Kim said. “North Korea is playing a game of trying to manipulate the U.S. by getting it within range, which is the so-called pressure card.”

Pyongyang could carry out other provocative acts, such as a second nuclear test, if its rocket launch doesn’t produce what it wants: direct talks with the U.S., said Kim Keun-sik, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University.

However, he said naval skirmishes or short-range missile tests are unlikely since they are “routine” provocations directed at South Korea, not the U.S.

“They will wait for the response to this satellite launch,” Pinkston predicted. …

Pyongyang routinely uses its nuclear weapons program as its trump card, promising to abandon its atomic ambitions in exchange for aid and then exercising the nuclear threat when it doesn’t get its way. The North also has reportedly been peddling missile parts and technology.

Iran, another country with controversial missile and nuclear programs, defended North Korea’s rocket launch.


Analysis of Kim Jong Il’s Motives for Rocket Launch

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