North Korea said yesterday it was ready to go ahead with its proposed long-range rocket launch, an announcement that sparked immediate condemnation from South Korea and Russia and a plea from China, its main ally, for calm.
The launch of the Unha-3 rocket, which North Korea says would merely put a weather satellite into space, breaches UN sanctions imposed to prevent Pyongyang from developing a missile that could carry a nuclear warhead.
Russia, a former backer of North Korea that has boosted economic ties with Pyongyang, denounced the program.
“We consider Pyongyang’s decision to conduct a launch of a satellite an example of disregard for UN Security Council decisions,” state-run news agency RIA quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich as saying.
North Korea defended the launch as a sovereign right.
“The weight of our satellite is 100kg. If it were a weapon, a 100kg payload wouldn’t have much of an effect ... Our launching tower is built on an open site,” said Ryu Kum-chol, vice director of the space development department of the North’s Korean Central Space Committee.
Ryu said that the rocket assembly would be completed by yesterday.
The launch is set to take place between tomorrow and Monday around the 100th birthday celebrations of the founder of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, whose grandson, Kim Jong-un, now rules. Kim Il-sung died in 1994.
Ryu said: “The launch of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite is the gift from our people to our great leader, comrade Kim Il-sung, on the occasion of his 100th birthday, so this cannot be a missile test.”
The West says the launch is a disguised ballistic missile test by a country that walked out of so-called six-party disarmament talks three years ago.
South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North after their 1950 to 1953 conflict ended with a truce rather than a treaty, warned Pyongyang it would deepen its isolation if it went ahead with the launch.
Security sources in Seoul, citing satellite images, have said that North Korea is also preparing a third nuclear test following the rocket launch, something it did in 2009, a move bound to trigger further condemnation from the West.