The U.S. has reacted angrily to reports of North Korea's plan to launch a rocket-mounted satellite to mark the birth centenary of its former President, the late Kim Il-sung, with the State Department describing the move as “highly provocative”.
Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said North Korea's announcement was in direct violation of its international obligations, specifically United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, which “clearly and unequivocally prohibit North Korea from conducting launches that use ballistic missile technology”.
Diplomatic ties were strained significantly following similar launches by Pyongyang in 2009. North Korea at the time had said it was only engaged in a peaceful space programme.
However then, as now, experts were quoted in the media as saying, “The launch technology for missiles and satellites is near-identical.”
Unsurprisingly South Korea reacted with alarm. Referring to the UNSC resolutions Cho Byung-jae, spokesman of the South Korean Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying, “This will be a clear violation... It will constitute a highly provocative action threatening peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.”
Going by the U.S.' reaction, the launch may lead to the U.S. considering backing out of its February agreement with North Korea — that the North would halt nuclear tests and activities and implement a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests in exchange for package of 240,000 tonnes of food aid. On this subject Ms Nuland said the missile launch would be “inconsistent with North Korea's recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches.”
The agreement came after a U.S. delegation returned from Beijing following a third exploratory round of talks with North Korea. Then the State Department had said it still had “profound concerns regarding North Korean behaviour across a wide range of areas”, but the agreement reflected “important, if limited, progress” in addressing some of these concerns.
Its reaction to the satellite launch this week notwithstanding, the State Department had reaffirmed in February that it “does not have hostile intent toward the DPRK and is prepared to take steps to improve our bilateral relationship in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality”.