South Korea yesterday condemned North Korea’s planned rocket launch as a “grave provocation,” saying it was a disguised attempt to develop a long-range ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Seoul also extended a security alert in the capital and said it was concerned the North might follow the ballistic missile launch with another nuclear test.
The North announced on Friday it would put a satellite into orbit next month, barely two weeks after reaching an agreement with Washington to suspend long-range missile launches as part of a deal to restart food aid.
“Our government defines North Korea’s so-called working satellite launch plan as a grave provocation to develop a long-distance delivery means for nuclear weapons by using ballistic missile technology,” South Korean presidential spokesman Park Jung-ha said in a statement.
Washington says the North’s long-range ballistic missile program is progressing quickly and last year said the US mainland could come under threat within five years.
The North has twice tested a nuclear device, but experts doubt whether it yet has the ability to miniaturize an atomic bomb to place atop a warhead.
Pyongyang is believed to have enough fissile material to make up to a dozen nuclear bombs and in 2010 it unveiled a uranium enrichment facility to go with its plutonium program, which opened a second route to making an atomic weapon.
Yesterday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met with the foreign and security-related ministers to discuss the North’s surprise announcement, which also flies in the face of a UN Security Council resolution banning long-range missile launches.
Park said in a statement that Seoul would work closely with the US, Japan, China and Russia — all members of the six-party forum which deals with the North’s nuclear program — during next week’s Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul.
The South’s defense ministry said it had established a team to monitor the rocket launch and would maintain a heightened defense alert for the Security Summit in Seoul through to the rocket launch, scheduled for between April 12 and April 16.
Ministry spokesman Yoon Won-shik told reporters that Seoul and Washington would use “surveillance assets” to watch the missile base in Tongchang-ri and follow the flight path after it is launched.