Report: North Korea gassing up rocket, imperiling diplomacy

A Japanese newspaper report that North Korea has begun fueling a rocket for a launch next month comes after similar reports of preparations.

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    In this March 20 file satellite image taken and provided by GeoEye, a satellite launch pad in Tongchang-ri, Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, North Korea, is shown. The Tongchang-ri site is about 35 miles from the Chinese border city of Dandong, across the Yalu River from North Korea.
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 A Japanese newspaper report that North Korea has begun fueling a rocket for a launch next month boosts multiple reports that North Korea is moving ahead on plans to launch what it says is a weather satellite, despite protests from the international community.

Citing a report from Tokyo Shimbun, The Telegraph reports that the launch has been set for April 12 or 13 and that the government had started fueling the rocket. A US official told Reuters yesterday that the US had “detected activity that looked like launch preparations” near the country's border with China.

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The West and some of North Korea’s neighbors have asked Pyongyang to abandon its plans for the launch, which they consider a violation of a United Nations ban on testing ballistic missiles. Earlier this week, the US announced it would halt food aid to the country.

The Telegraph reports that Pyongyang said the satellite, which will be launched via a missile, will estimate crop yields, collect weather data, and assess forest coverage and natural resources. The international community sees it as an attempt to test its long-range missile capability.

Pyongyang said earlier this week that Obama’s warning against the launch “reflects his wrong conception” of North Korea’s intentions, CNN reports.

The US believes that North Korea now has cyber-warfare capabilities as well. Army Gen. James Thurman, who commands US Forces Korea, told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee earlier this week that Pyongyang now has a skilled team of hackers, in addition to chemical and biological weapons, Reuters reports.

"Such attacks are ideal for North Korea, providing the regime a means to attack [South Korean] and US interests without attribution, and have been increasingly employed against a variety of targets including military, governmental, educational, and commercial institutions," Thurman said.

Japan announced earlier this week that it was preparing interceptor missiles ahead of the launch and South Korea warned that it would shoot down any parts of a North Korean rocket that ended up over its territory, the Associated Press reports.

In an editorial, The Independent notes that progress on rapprochement between the West, North Korea, and its neighbors is evaporating, and relations look likely to deteriorate further.

 

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