N. Korea gears up to launch long-range rocket
The message said North Korea plans to launch the rocket between 7 a.m. and noon local time (between 5 and 10 p.m. EST) during its planned launch window, the South Korean official said on condition of anonymity because of department rules.
South Korean officials have accused North Korea of trying to influence the South’s presidential election with what they consider provocations meant to put pressure on voters and on the United States as the North seeks concessions. Conservative Park Geun-hye, the daughter of late President Park Chung-hee, is facing liberal Moon Jae-in in the South Korean presidential vote. Polls show the candidates in a close race.
North Korea is “working hard to influence the upcoming election. They may have a preferred candidate,” South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in an interview with a small group of foreign reporters in the presidential Blue House. “Even if they test-fire a missile, it will not have a big impact on the election,” MR. Lee said, speaking through an interpreter.
MR. Lee gave the interview Thursday, but his office embargoed the publication of his comments until Sunday.
North Korea under its young leader has pledged to bolster its nuclear arsenal unless Washington scraps what the North calls a “hostile” policy. North Korea maintains that it is building bombs to defend itself against what it sees as a U.S. nuclear threat in the region.
This year is the centennial of the birth of national founder Kim Il-Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong-Un. According to North Korean propaganda, 2012 is meant to put the North on a path toward a “strong, prosperous and great nation.”
“North Korea appears to be under pressure to redeem its April launch failure before the year of the ‘strong, prosperous and great nation’ ends,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul.
He added that a successful rocket launch would raise North Korea’s bargaining power with South Korea and the United States “because it means the country is closer to developing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.”
Before its last two rocket launches, North Korea notified the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization about its intentions to launch. IMO spokeswoman Natasha Brown said that as of Friday the organization had not been notified by North Korea.
The North’s announcement on Saturday comes two days after South Korea canceled what would have been the launch of its first satellite from its own territory. Scientists in Seoul cited technical difficulties. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the North’s planned launch is “a grave provocation and a head-on challenge to the international community.”
North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs will be a challenge for MR. Obama in his second term and for the incoming South Korean leader. Washington’s most recent attempt to negotiate a freeze of the North’s nuclear program and a test moratorium in exchange for food aid collapsed with the April launch.
In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he would coordinate with the U.S., South Korea, China and Russia in strongly urging the North to refrain from the rocket launch. The Kyodo News agency said Japan also had postponed high-level talks with North Korea scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.
The Korean Peninsula remains in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. Washington stations nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea as a buttress against any North Korean aggression. Tens of thousands more are in nearby Japan.
Associated Press writers Jean H. Lee, Hyung-jin Kim and Sam Kim in Seoul; Jill Lawless in London; Thomas Strong in Washington; and Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo contributed to this report.