No rocket launch, but N Korea stays firm
PYONGYANG NORTH Korea’s first chance at a rocket launch passed on on Thursday with no word of a liftoff, but also with no sign that Pyongyang intends to abandon what the US and its allies consider an attempt to test long-range missile technology.
The launch window for what North Korea says is an 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 has said it will launch the rocket between Thursday and Monday, between 7 am and noon local time. Space officials showed foreign journalists the launch control centre on Wednesday and said fuelling was under way, but they did not comment further on the timing.
Poor weather made a Thursday launch unlikely, Philippine disaster management agency chief Benito Ramos said, citing an assessment he received from the Philippine military, which is being briefed by US and Japan counterparts. Wind in particular can scuttle rocket launches.
The United States, Japan, Britain and others say the launch would be a provocation and would violate UN Security Council resolutions banning North Korea 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.
Japan’s parliament adopted a resolution on Thursday condemning the scheduled rocket launch.
“A launch is a serious act of provocation that would affect peace and stability in the region that includes our country,” Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said, reading the resolution adopted unanimously at the lower house.
“We strongly urge North Korea to use self-restraint and not to carry out a launch.” South Korea’s Defence Ministry said it was prepared to shoot down any rocket that strays into its territory.
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.
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 generalsecretary.” Though he already is considered supreme commander of the armed forces, Kim is expected to gain other new titles formalising his position as “supreme leader.” Revised party rules now refer to Kim Jong Il as “suryong.”