South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan is seeking China‘s help persuading North Korea to refrain from developing and testing new missiles.
A rocket launch of any kind will be a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution, Mr. Yu said as North Korea announced Tuesday that it is preparing to launch what it claims is a satellite.
The announcement marked the first official confirmation by North Korea after weeks of intelligence reports that it is preparing to fire a multistage rocket.
The North did not say when the launch would take place, but Seoul expects it will be ready in a week or two and warns that Pyongyang would face sanctions.
The U.N. resolution was adopted after Pyongyang attempted to test a Taepodong-2 missile in 2006. If the missile works, it could reach Alaska and parts of the continental United States. However, the rocket failed about 40 seconds after blast-off.
Mr. Yu said he would “brainstorm” with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, over how to deal with the North during his two-day visit to China.
China acknowledged the North Korean announcement and called for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.
The visit comes after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton toured South Korea, China, Japan and Indonesia last week. During her trip, she warned North Korea against any “provocative and unhelpful” behavior.
North Korea’s Korean Committee of Space Technology said Tuesday that “full-scale preparations are under way” to launch a rocket to put a communications satellite into orbit.
“When this satellite is successfully launched, our space technology will make a great step forward toward becoming an economically strong country,” said the committee’s statement, carried by Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The committee said the rocket would be fired at a launch site in Hwadae in the country’s northeast. Hwadae County includes Musudan-ri, which is widely believed to be the launch site for the country’s long-range missiles.
“Outer space is an asset common to mankind, and its use for peaceful purposes has become a global trend,” the committee said, stressing that North Korea has the sovereign right to send up rockets for “peaceful space development.”
It is the same language North Korea used in 1998 to describe a long-range missile test that was partly successful.
When the North test-fired a multistage rocket named the Taepodong-1 into the Pacific Ocean over Japan in August 1998, it argued that the rocket’s purpose was to send a satellite into orbit for the peaceful use of space.
A year later, the North claimed the satellite, dubbed Kwangmyongsong-1, or Bright Star-1, in North Korea, was still orbiting the Earth, “transmitting the melody of the immortal revolutionary ‘Song of [North Korean founder] General Kim Il-sung’ and ‘Song of General Kim Jong-il [his son and current leader].’ ”
The North said the satellite was a “brilliant achievement based on our country’s [self-reliant] economy and scientific research,” though the U.S. Space Command said it did not observe any object orbiting the Earth or any radio transmission that could justify Pyongyang’s claim.
After the rocket launch, Kim Jong-il cemented his status as the country’s new leader in October 1998, when he was formally inaugurated as head of state, succeeding his father, who died in 1994.
Tuesday’s statement from the national space committee called the rocket the “Unha-2 that will put communications satellite Kwangmyongsong-2 into orbit.”
“Preparations for launching the experimental communications satellite, Kwangmyongsong-2, by means of the delivery rocket Unha-2 are now making brisk headway,” it said.
The North also has employed the same explanation used by Iran to defend its missile programs, saying Pyongyang’s “policy of advancing to space for peaceful purposes is a justifiable aim that fits the global trend of the times.”
Iran recently launched its first homemade satellite into space, saying its space advancement serves no military purpose. However, experts warn that Tehran’s space work could lead to the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile. As is the case with North Korea, Iran’s military plays a key role in the space program.