N. Korea rejects calls to stop satellite launch plan


AFP

SEOUL — North Korea on Sunday reiterated its commitment to launching a satellite in the face of protests by its neighbors and the U.S., who view the move as a disguised missile test. The North announced Friday it would launch a long-range rocket carrying a satellite between April 12-16 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founding president Kim Il Sung. Pyongyang insists the program is part of peaceful space research, and on Sunday railed against the “double standards” of the U.S., which with other nations believe it is effectively a missile test.

The U.S., Japan, South Korea and the EU said the plan, announced just 16 days after Pyongyang agreed to suspend long-range missile tests in return for the U.S. food aid, would breach a U.N. ban imposed after previous missile launches. But the North’s state-run KCNA on Sunday called the criticism “a base move … to encroach upon our sovereignty” and accused the U.S. and Japan of “space espionage” by monitoring other nations with their own satellites.

“Explicitly speaking, no one can tolerate the double yardstick and double standards in the issue of satellite manufacture and launch,” KCNA said in a statement. It also criticized “hostile forces” including Washington, Tokyo and Seoul of using the planned satellite launch to heap “political, military and economic pressure” on Pyongyang. “No one has the right to take issue with the DPRK (North Korea)’s projected satellite launch this or that way,” it said, adding that its neighbors are “sadly mistaken” if they believe the North would cancel the launch. The launch by the impoverished but nuclear-armed state North is set to jeopardize a February 29 agreement with Washington, which had raised hopes of eased tension under the new leader Kim Jong-Un.

Pyongyang agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment program, along with long-range missile launches and nuclear tests, in return for 240,000 tons of much-needed U.S. food aid. The U.S. State Department called the proposed satellite launch “highly provocative” and a threat to regional security. And it voiced doubt over whether it could move ahead with providing the food aid if Pyongyang followed through with its threat.

Seoul and Tokyo condemned the plan. Russia also voiced concern and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on North Korea not to go ahead. Even China, the North’s closest ally, expressed concern. The North’s last long-range rocket launch on April 5, 2009, also purportedly to put a satellite into orbit, brought U.N. Security Council condemnation and tightened sanctions. Pyongyang on Saturday said it would invite foreign experts and journalists to observe a satellite launch.