North Korea’s first chance at a rocket launch came and went yesterday with no word of a liftoff, but also with no sign that Pyongyang intends to call off what the US and its allies consider an attempt to test long-range missile technology.
The launch window for what North Korea says is a observation satellite opened during a week aimed at celebrating Sunday’s centennial of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the country’s late founder.
Events also include high-level meetings where new leader Kim Jong-un has received at least three new titles to further cement his rule.
North Korea had told international organizations that its rocket launch would come between yesterday and Monday, between 7am and noon. That timeframe passed yesterday without liftoff.
North Korean space officials, who had taken foreign journalists to the launch control center on Wednesday and said fueling was under way, did not comment on the timing of the launch beyond saying it would occur in the five-day window.
Poor weather made a launch yesterday unlikely, Philippine disaster management agency chief Benito Ramos said, citing an assessment passed on to him by the Philippine military, which is being briefed by US and Japan counterparts. Wind in particular can scuttle rocket launches.
The US, Japan, Britain and others say the launch would constitute a provocation and would violate UN Security Council resolutions banning the North from developing its nuclear and missile programs. Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is similar to the type of rocket that could be used to fire a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead to strike the US or other targets.
North Korea denies that the launch is anything but a peaceful civilian bid to send a satellite into space. The Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite is designed to send back images and data that will be used for weather forecasts and agricultural surveys.
Pyongyang made two previous attempts to launch a satellite, in 1998 and 2009, but the US and other outside observers say there is no evidence that either reached orbit. This week’s planned launch came with more fanfare, with Pyongyang inviting a possibly unprecedented crowd of foreign journalists and other guests.
North Korea also is elevating Kim Jong-un, who has been firmly in power since his father, Kim Jong-il, died in December last year.
He was named first secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party at a conference on Wednesday, a new top title that allowed the party to grant Kim Jong-il the posthumous title of “eternal general secretary.” Though he already is considered supreme commander of the armed forces, Kim Jong-un is expected to gain other new titles formalizing his position as “supreme leader,” possibly including his father’s title of chairman of the National Defense Commission.
Revised party rules now refer to Kim Jong-il as suryong — a title meaning “leader” previously reserved for Kim Il-sung. During his rule, Kim Jong-il was referred to as ryongdoja, another title meaning “leader.”
The elevation of Kim Jong-il to his father’s status provides a glimpse into how North Korea will handle the nation’s second hereditary succession and indicates he will be honored much in the same way father Kim Il-sung was made “eternal president” following his 1994 death.
Footage aired on state TV yesterday showed Kim Jong-un seated at the front of the conference with white statues of his grandfather and a new statue of his father in his trademark khaki work ensemble, one arm on his hip. On Mansu Hill, once the domain of a huge bronze statue of Kim Il-sung, a second covered statue awaits its unveiling.
Another key meeting, the Supreme People’s Assembly session, opens today.
Workers’ Party delegates also elected a new generation of younger officials to key posts, including Choe Ryong-hae, a new vice marshal who will join Kim Jong-un on the powerful Presidium of the Central Committee’s Political Bureau.
Six other people were named to the Political Bureau of the Central Committee, including Jang Song-thaek, who is married to Kim Jong-il’s sister, Kim Kyong-hui.