North Korea could complete preparations to fire a missile within the next two weeks at the earliest, Seoul’s defense chief reportedly said yesterday, as South Korea and the US warned Pyongyang of sanctions and other consequences.
Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee made the prediction during a closed-door report to ruling Grand National Party (GNP) leaders, Yonhap news agency said, citing unnamed participants.
The ministry said it cannot confirm the report. GNP spokeswoman Cho Yoon-sun was not available for comment.
North Korea is believed to be gearing up to test-fire its longest-range missile, the Taepodong-2, moving the rocket and other equipment to a launch site on the country’s northeast coast. South Korean media have said a firing could come this month.
Earlier yesterday, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan warned the North that a missile launch will “inevitably” entail sanctions because it would be a violation of a 2006 UN Security Council resolution banning Pyongyang from pursuing missile or nuclear programs.
“North Korea’s missile is not a mere conventional weapon,” Yu said.
“The combination of its long-range missile and nuclear capability will have a very serious impact on the world’s peace and security,” Yonhap news agency quoted him as telling reporters.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while visiting Japan as part of her Asian trip, warned on Tuesday that a missile launch “would be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward.”
Amid growing international pressure to drop the plan, Pyongyang said earlier this week that it has the right to “space development” — a term it has used in the past to disguise a missile test as a satellite launch.
When Pyongyang conducted a ballistic missile test in 1998, it claimed it put a satellite into orbit. The regime also claims it has atomic bombs.
“If the North launches a missile or a satellite, it would be a violation of the UN Security Council resolution,” Yu told a forum organized by the Korea Foundation, a government agency that promotes exchange with foreign countries. “It can’t help but inevitably bring sanctions.”
Yu said the North’s nuclear capabilities make its missile program all the more worrisome.
North Korea has not shown any direct reaction to the warnings from Seoul and Washington.
But Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said on Tuesday the country won’t give in to “threat and blackmail from the US,” accusing Washington of planning to invade the North — an allegation Washington and Seoul have long denied.
Yesterday, South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported that the North has been secretly running an underground uranium enrichment facility near the country’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. The paper cited an unnamed senior South Korean government official.