(CBS/AP) PYONGYANG, North Korea - North Korea announced plans Friday to blast a satellite into space on the back of a long-range rocket, a provocative move that could jeopardize aexchanging food aid for nuclear concessions.
The North agreed to a moratorium on long-range launches as part of the deal with Washington, but it argues that its satellite launches are part of a peaceful space program that is exempt from any international disarmament agreements. The U.S., South Korea and other critics say the rocket technology overlaps with belligerent uses and condemn the satellite program as a disguised way of testing military missiles in defiance of a U.N. ban.
The launch is to take place three years after a similar launch in April 2009 drew widespread censure.The U.S. strongly urged North Korea to reconsider in a statement released by the State Department early Friday morning.
"North Korea's announcement that it plans to conduct a missile launch in direct violation of its international obligations is highly provocative," said the statement released by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's office. "U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 clearly and unequivocally prohibit North Korea from conducting launches that use ballistic missile technology. Such a missile launch would pose a threat to regional security and would also be inconsistent with North Korea's recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches."
Japan also urged Pyongyang to abandon the launch, calling it a violation of a U.N. resolution restricting the North's use of ballistic missile technology, and South Korea's Foreign Ministry called the plans a "grave provocation."
"Agreements with North Korea have often been one step forward, two steps back, but the planned rocket launch appears to designed to send a message that Pyongyang will take food aid only on its terms," says CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk.
"North Korea signed an international treaty three years ago with which it tried to make the point that communications satellites are for peaceful purposes," notes Falk, "but world powers argued at that time that a launch was in violation of U.N. Security Council resolution 1718, which bans 'all activities related to its ballistic missile program,' and the current plan to launch a satellite next month is sure to put the newly minted agreement for food aid into question."
The liftoff is slated for between April 12 and 16 from a west coast launch pad in North Phyongan province to test satellite technology, a spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology said in a statement carried by state media.
The plan comes as North Korea prepares to celebrate the April 15 centenary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il Sung. Kim's grandson, Kim Jong Un, has led the nation of 24 million since his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December.
"The window for the launch is important in terms of the domestic politics of the North," said Daniel Pinkston, an expert on North Korea's weapons programs at the International Crisis Group. He said the launch serves to underline North Korea's military capabilities and reinforce Kim's fledgling rule.
Kim Jong Il had been grooming the son to take over as leader since suffering a stroke in 2008. Footage aired Friday on state-run TV showed Kim Jong Un observing the 2009 rocket launch.
Such a launch aims to reinforce unity at home by provoking new tensions that will allow its leadership to portray the country as beset by hostile forces. A third nuclear test could be next, Pinkston said.
The launch also jeopardizes the recent food aid deal with the U.S., he said.
"I can't see how the U.S. is going to deliver this food aid," he said. "I think this is going to kill it."