- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

SEOUL (AP) | North Korea told two U.N. agencies that it plans to launch a communications satellite between April 4 and April 8 - an unprecedented disclosure seen as trying to fend off international worries that the launch is really a test of long-range missile technology.

The notification to the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization underscores that the communist regime is intent on pushing ahead the launch in an attempt to gain greater leverage in negotiations with the United States, analysts say.

The U.S. and other governments have said any rocket launch - whether missile test or satellite - would violate a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution banning North Korea from ballistic missile activity.

The U.N. agencies said Thursday that North Korea informed them by letter of the launch details Wednesday. It is the first time the regime has offered a safety warning ahead of a missile or a satellite launch, according to the South Korean government.

“They want to do the launch openly while minimizing what the international community may find fault with,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University. “The launch will earn North Korea a key political asset that would enlarge its negotiating leverage.”

Countries planning a space launch or missile test normally notify maritime or aviation authorities so aircraft and ships can be warned to stay away from affected regions.

But North Korea did not do so ahead of its purported satellite launch in 1998 over Japan and a failed 2006 test-flight of a long-range missile, drawing international condemnations.

Few believe Pyongyang’s claim that it needs a communications satellite when one of the nation’s stated top national goals is addressing chronic food shortages.

Use of cell phones, the Internet and international calls are tightly controlled in the totalitarian North.

Officials and experts have said even if a satellite is launched, the North’s ultimate goal is to test and demonstrate its missile capabilities.

The launch also could embarrass South Korea, which is still months away from launching a satellite aboard its own rocket.

U.S. National Intelligence Director Dennis C. Blair said Tuesday the North may be planning a space launch, but he said the technology is no different from that of a long-range missile and its success would mean the country is capable of striking the U.S. mainland.

“If a three-stage space launch vehicle works, then that could reach not only Alaska and Hawaii but also part of what the Hawaiians call the mainland and what the Alaskans call the lower 48,” he told a Senate panel.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special envoy on North Korea, had been prepared to go to North Korea for talks at a moment’s notice during a trip last week to Asia, but the North did not invite him.

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