North Korea Readies First Stage of Rocket

North Korea is ahead of schedule as it takes the first steps to launch its rocket. Meanwhile, radio in Pyongyang reports on the recent failings of the South to launch its own rockets. Is this a space race?
December 3rd, 2012

North Korean media has remained fairly quiet in response to world headlines that continue to be dominated this week by the news of another attempted rocket launch by Pyongyang.

It has, however, been talking about the recent failure of South Korea’s own satellite launch. In a broadcast on the Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS), North Korea’s main radio station early this morning, an announcer read a statement pointing out that previous attempts made by Seoul to launch a satellite had failed in August 2009 and 2010.

Is this all an attempt, therefore, to simply launch a satellite before the South does? Lift off could certainly be sooner than expected as reports emerge suggesting the North has already installed the first stage of its three-stage rocket, and is well ahead of schedule.

Pyongyang recently announced that it would launch a “satellite-carrying rocket” between December 10th and 22nd, approximately a year after the former leader, Kim Jong Il, passed away.

The move is a clear signal that Pyongyang intends to continue with the rocket launch, and further supports claims that the launch has been organised for primarily domestic reasons after North Korea ignored China’s apparent dissatisfaction with the launch .

According to South Korean intelligence sources, the rocket will take three to four days to fully install, meaning it could be ready to launch a few days ahead of the announced launch window.

Unfavourable reactions from the diplomatic community continue to pour in, as many speak of the imminent dangers and threats the launch could pose to the region.

The US State Department reiterated that the North’s satellite launch would be highly provocative, and that the US would “take action accordingly in the event of a further launch.” Meanwhile, Japan started deploying surface-to-air missile defense systems and put its armed forces on standby, similar to measures it took in April.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement adopting the balanced tone it normally applies when tensions between the two Koreas are high, saying:

We are deeply concerned by [North] Korea’s announcement of its plan to launch a satellite, and we have taken note of the reaction from all sides. [North] Korea has the right to peacefully use its airspace, but this right is subject to relevant UN Security Council restrictions. We hope all sides involved can do more for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, and act calmly so as to avoid escalating the situation.

South Korea has also entered “stage one” of its diplomatic efforts with First Vice Foreign Minister Ahn Ho-young meeting with US Ambassador in Seoul, Sung Kim, and Lim Sung-nam, the chief nuclear envoy, meeting with ambassadors from China, Russia and Japan.

Senior ministry officials have stated that their main goal is to convince the North to cancel its launch but are likely to be planning for the aftermath, which could include strengthening sanctions on Pyongyang.

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About the Author

James Pearson

James Pearson (@pearswick) was the NK News Seoul Correspondent.