- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, March 28 (UPI) — North Korea criticized Japan's launch of two spy satellites Friday as a hostile act against the communist state, warning Tokyo would be "wholly responsible" for triggering a new arms race in the region.

Earlier the day, Japan successfully launched an H-2A rocket carrying two information-gathering satellites largely aimed at monitoring North Korea's long-range missile development and suspected nuclear weapons programs.

"The satellite launch deprived Japan of any justification and qualification to talk about the DPRK's (North Korea's) satellite launch," said a Foreign Ministry statement, carried on the state-run North Korean Central News Agency.

"Japan will be held wholly responsible for sparking a news arms race in Northeast Asia," the statement warned.

North Korea called Japan's satellites launch "violation" of the 2002 Pyongyang Declaration in which the two nations agreed on cooperation to maintain and strengthen the peace and stability of Northeast Asia.

Under the agreement signed between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il on Sept. 17, 2002, North Korea pledged to maintain the moratorium on missile launching in and after 2003. Under the accord, "Japan has lost all its rights to talk about our own satellite launches," the North's statement said.

North Korea rattled Japan in 1998 when it test-fired a long-range ballistic missile over Japan. Facing international pressure, it promised to keep its moratorium on missile tests until at least 2003.

Some analysts expressed concern that North Korea could respond to Japan's satellite launch by firing its missiles because Pyongyang has recently hinted it may resume missile launches amid the international standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear activities.

Hours after the satellite launch, Japan's Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba arrived in Seoul for talks with his South Korean counterpart, Cho Young-kil, on North Korea's nuclear program.

In a pre-departure interview in Tokyo, Ishiba said his country would not promote nuclear armament even if the North becomes a nuclear power.

"Japan is opposed to nuclear proliferation around the globe. We are not thinking about harboring nuclear weapons," he told Seoul's JoonAng Ilbo newspaper.

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