This weekend, foreign reporters were invited to view the placement of a new North Korean satellite on its launch pad in the northwestern area of Tongchang-ri.
People within the international community are saying the building and launch of the Unha-3 rocket violates two UN Security Council resolutions and amount to a tacit admission the reclusive north Asian nation has been working on missile technology.
Speaking on Thursday at a think tank event, former U.S.-Forces Korea Commander General Walter Sharp said, "I believe it is a continuing effort to develop a ballistic missile that can be successful in order to carry a nuclear weapon any where in the world."
But the North Korean government says the rocket and its satellite payload, scheduled to be launched between April 12 and 16, are meant only to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of DPRK founder Kim Il-Sung on Sunday.
The United States, one of the most outspoken opponents of the launch, said on March 16, the day the launch was announced, the launch would violate UNSC Resolutions 1718 and 1874, which "prohibit North Korea from conducting launches that use ballistic missile technology."
"Such a missile launch would pose a threat to regional security and would also be inconsistent with North Korea's recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches," the statement from State Department Spokesman Toria Nuland said.
Other regional powers including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and even China have come out against the launch.
After a meeting in Zhejiang Province with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said he had strong concerns over the proposed launch and urged "restraint" on the part of the Communist ally.
On Monday, South Korean Defense Ministry Spokesman Kim Min-seok took this a step further, stating, "The South Korean military is fully prepared to protect the South Korean people and respond firmly against any acts of provocation that threaten the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula."
Seoul has vowed to shoot down the rocket if it enters their territory while Tokyo installed ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors in Okinawa, Ishigaki and Miyako and Tokyo ahead of the launch.
Numerous airlines, including Japan Airlines and Philippines Airlines, are also preparing to divert planes from the flight path of the satellite.
When asked about Korean and Japanese plans to shoot down the rocket, Nuland said the countries in the region had a right to self-defense.
"What we said very clearly is that we don't want to see the satellite launch. I'm not going to speculate down the road," State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said Friday.
But Korea expert and Georgetown University Professor Victor Cha believes the North Koreans could truly believe their own rhetoric.
At Thursday's event he said, "Another reason they might do this [satellite launch], they may, they honestly believe, there is a difference between a satellite launch and ballistic missile launch...In their own minds they seem to be thinking this."
by RTT Staff Writer
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