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North Korea seen playing up a crisis
Analyst sees nation using rocket launch to wring more concessions
North Korea appears determined to launch a rocket this week, despite the prospect of losing nearly 250,000 tons of U.S. food aid, receiving new U.N. sanctions and embarrassing its only major ally, China.
With so much at stake, the secretive communist nation’s actions beg the question: What do North Korean leaders hope to gain by going through with the launch?
North Korea has said the launch, which could occur as early as Thursday, will put a weather-and-research satellite into orbit. Engineers on Wednesday fueled the three-stage rocket on its launch pad at Dongchang-ri.
U.S. officials, however, have said they suspect the launch is a cover for North Korea to test a long-range ballistic missile that, with military modifications, could be capable of hitting areas of the United States, among other nations.
The United States currently chairs the Security Council, and officials have said they expect the panel to take up the matter if the launch goes ahead. New, tougher sanctions could be imposed.
For its own part, the United States has said it will not go forward with a food aid deal with North Korea that was unveiled at the end of February.
Within three weeks of the agreement, North Korean officials notified international aviation authorities about the planned rocket launch, which they have said is allowed under a U.N. treaty guaranteeing all nations the right to the peaceful exploration of space.
North Korean leaders were seeking “to create conditions when they can demand more concessions from the United States and international community” in exchange for halting, but not reversing, their work on missiles and nuclear weapons, said Mr. Lankov.
He said the North Koreans’ message is clear: “We are here, we are seriously dangerous, we are not influenced by your sanctions … by the way, we do not give a damn about the 240,000 tons of food you just promised.”
Last week, South Korean officials said the North also is readying to test a nuclear weapon.
After North Korea’s last rocket launch in 2009, the totalitarian regime responded to international criticism with a nuclear test within a month.
Mr. Lankov said history is “absolutely” repeating itself, as the regime seeks to demonstrate its nuclear and ballistic potency in the face of its near-total international isolation.
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