North Korea said yesterday it was readying to launch a satellite, a move that the US and its allies believe could actually be a long-range missile test.
Just days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Pyongyang to avoid any provocations, the country said preparations were under way for a rocket launch to put a communications satellite into orbit.
South Korea indicated a new round of sanctions would follow if the country goes ahead with a launch.
Pyongyang has previously tested missiles under the guise of launching a satellite, and analysts have said recent comments from the North indicated it was on the verge of another attention-grabbing test.
“When this satellite launch proves successful, the nation’s space science and technology will make another giant stride forward in building an economic power,” the country’s national space committee said.
North Korea first tested its longest-range Taepodong-2 missile in 2006, the same year it shocked the world by testing an atom bomb, but the missile — said to be capable of reaching Alaska — blew up after just 40 seconds.
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee challenged the North to present evidence it was launching a satellite, not a missile.
“Regardless whether the North launches a satellite or tests a long-range missile, it would pose a security threat to the South as the technology involved is about the same,” he told parliament.
South Korea will “trace its trajectory, assuming it is a long-range missile,” Lee said.
Some analysts said the North would indeed launch a satellite but that the technology could easily be applied to a long-range missile. Experts do not know whether Pyongyang has the technology to fit a nuclear warhead to its missiles.
“If you put a warhead [on it] instead of a satellite, it’s a long-range missile. The North is now seeking to show off its delivery capability,” said Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
The North did not say when the launch would be made, but Baek said it may take place around the time of the North’s parliamentary elections on March 8.