North Korea announced Tuesday it was preparing to launch a "satellite" from its northeastern coast, denying recent intelligence suggesting it was ready to test a long-range missile.
“Full-scale preparations are underway at a satellite launch site,'” a North Korean space committee spokesman said through the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in a statement first reported by South Korea’s semi-official Yonhap News Agency. The Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite would launch on the Eunha-2 rocket, he said. “If the satellite is successfully launched, our country’s space technology will take a great step forward into becoming a strong, economic country,” the spokesman said, adding that the North Korea is following its own “peaceful use policy” in developing such technology. Earlier this month a senior U.S. official told CNN that a U.S. spy satellite had snapped an image of preparations at a North Korean site previously used to launch Taepodong-2 missiles. The photograph shows North Korean workers assembling telemetry equipment — involving sophisticated electronics used to monitor missile launches, the official said, adding there was no direct evidence that a missile was being moved to the launch pad. North Korea will go ahead with “space development,” according to its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) last week, saying the program was “the independent right of the (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) and the requirement of the developing reality.” Tension between Pyongyang and its neighbor South Korea has increased in recent weeks, with North Korea announcing it would scrap peace agreements with the South, warning of a war on the Korean peninsula and threatening to test a missile capable of hitting the western United States.
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U.S. and South Korean officials have said that North Korea appears to be preparing to test-fire its long-range missile, the Taepodong-2. Pyongyang tested one of the missiles in 2006, but it failed 40 seconds after launch. The missile is thought to have an intended range of about 4,200 miles (6,700 kilometers), which — if true — could give it the capability of striking Alaska or Hawaii. North Korea has been involved in what is known as the six-party talks with the United States, Japan, Russia, South Korea and China — an effort to end the nation’s nuclear program. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who returned from Asia on Sunday after her first overseas trip in the post, recently called North Korea’s nuclear program “the most acute challenge to stability in northeast Asia.” Watch how worries over North Korea’s succession also play a role »
However, she told CNN, any saber-rattling by North Korea toward South Korea should be taken with a grain of salt, since “South Korea basically keeps the North Korean economy going with all of the subsidies of food and fuel and medical supplies.” Clinton believes North Korea consciously deploys two different stances — at times being bellicose toward its neighbors and at other times behaving rationally and sticking with commitments — as part of a calculated effort for diplomatic maneuvering.