SEOUL (AP) — North Korea has moved a rocket to a northwestern site in preparation for a launch next month, South Korean officials said Sunday, as Pyongyang pushes ahead with a plan that Washington calls a cover for testing long-range missiles.
President and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak urged North Korea to immediately stop its launch plans, warning in Seoul that they would deal sternly with any provocation. Mr. Obama said the move would jeopardize a deal in which the U.S. would ship food aid to the North in exchange for a nuclear freeze.
“Bad behavior will not be rewarded,” Mr. Obama said in a joint news conference with Mr. Lee. “There had been a pattern, I think, for decades in which North Korea thought if they had acted provocatively, then somehow they would be bribed into ceasing and desisting acting provocatively.”
Earlier Sunday, Mr. Obama made a symbolic visit to the tense, heavily armed border dividing the Koreas, six decades after the Korean War ended with a cease-fire that leaves the peninsula technically at war.
North Korea’s launch preparations are expected to dominate high-level sideline discussions at an international nuclear security summit in Seoul set for Monday and Tuesday that Mr. Obama and other world leaders are attending. The launch preparations come as North Koreans and new leader Kim Jong-un mark 100 days since the death of Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.
In northwestern North Korea, the main body of a long-range rocket was transported to a building in the village of Tongchang-ri in North Phyongan province, South Korean Defense Ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff officials said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department rules. The officials provided no further details and cited the South Korean and U.S. militaries for the information.
The Tongchang-ri launch site is about 35 miles from the Chinese border city of Dandong, across the Yalu River from North Korea. Analysts describe it is a new, more sophisticated site that would allow the North to fire the rocket from the west coast to avoid sending it over other countries.
North Korea says it is planning to launch a satellite in a scientific endeavor. The launch is set for sometime around celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the April 15 birth of North Korea’s founder, the late Kim Il-sung, who was Kim Jong-il’s father and the current leader’s grandfather.
However, Mr. Lee said the launch violates “a U.S.-North Korea deal and is a provocative act that poses a threat to international peace and security.”
Under the agreement settled last month between Washington and Pyongyang, considered a breakthrough at the time, the United States would ship food aid to the impoverished North in exchange for a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests.
Washington says North Korea’s rocket launches are meant to test delivery systems for long-range missiles it hopes to mount with nuclear weapons that could target Alaska and beyond.
“President Obama and I agreed to continue to strengthen the Korea-U.S. combined defense posture and sternly deal with any provocation and threat by North Korea,” Mr. Lee said.
Japan is preparing to deploy land- and sea-based interceptor missiles and is planning to issue an order to troops to shoot down the rocket if it is deemed a threat or violates Japanese airspace.
North Koreans, meanwhile, paid their respects to Kim Jong-il, with tens of thousands gathering in Pyongyang’s central square.
Kim Jong-un presided over a memorial service and gun salute in Pyongyang as North Koreans across the country observed a noon moment of silence in Kim Jong-il’s memory. Citizens and soldiers lined up in rows, bowing their heads before a large portrait of Kim Jong-il flanked with wreaths of white flowers.
The U.N. Security Council condemned North Korea’s last long-range rocket launch in 2009. Pyongyang responded by abandoning six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and, weeks later, carrying out a nuclear test, its second.
Also Sunday, the South Korean president and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key urged North Korea to cancel its planned launch, calling it a serious threat to regional peace, according to Mr. Lee’s office.
The nuclear summit follows up on one held two years ago in Washington and is meant to find ways to keep nuclear weapons and material from getting in the hands of terrorists.
Associated Press writer Pak Won-il in Pyongyang and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.