North Korea Says It Will Attempt to Test Another Long-Range Rocket

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SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea said Saturday that it would try to launch another long-range rocket later this month, as the country prepares to commemorate the death a year ago of its longtime ruler Kim Jong-il, and as his son Kim Jong-un works to bolster his credentials as a leader.

The launching, which North Korea said would take place between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22, is likely to prompt international condemnations and heighten tensions with Washington and its allies. Critics consider North Korea's launching of a Unha-3 rocket a cover for testing technology for intercontinental ballistic missiles that could eventually be used to carry nuclear weapons.

In April, North Korea launched a rocket, only to have it disintegrate shortly afterward, failing in its stated goal of putting an earth-observation satellite into orbit.

Saturday's announcement came at a delicate time in the region. South Korea is gearing up for a presidential election on Dec. 19, and Japan plans parliamentary elections on Dec. 16. In Washington, President Obama will begin his second term in January.

"For Kim Jong-un, a successful rocket launching may be the best he can think of to show his achievements in his first year in power," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul and a visiting scholar in international studies at Johns Hopkins University. Kim Jong-un took over after the death of his father last Dec. 17.

The North's announcement also came a day after Mr. Kim met a delegation sent by China's new leader, Xi Jinping. South Korean news media had speculated that one of the missions of the Chinese delegation might be to try to persuade Pyongyang to refrain from launching a rocket again, with satellite photos appearing to indicate launching preparations.

If so, North Korea's apparent rejection would be particularly brazen, given that Mr. Xi has just been elevated. China is North Korea's only real ally, and a source of much-needed aid and trade, but Pyongyang has ignored some of China's requests in the past.April's launching led to the collapse of a deal under which Washington promised to ship humanitarian aid to North Korea in return for North Korea's promise to suspend nuclear and missile tests, as well as uranium enrichment, and allow United Nations monitors back into its main nuclear complex.

The official Korean Central News Agency quoted an unidentified spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology as saying that North Korea had "analyzed the mistakes" made in April and had improved the precision and reliability of the rocket and satellite. The rocket is expected to take the same path as that abortive launching, traveling between China and the Korean Peninsula, and North Korea said Saturday that it would conduct the launching "transparently."

South Korea expressed "serious concern" about the plan, calling it "a grave provocation" in defiance of international warnings. "The North must realize that its repeated provocations have only deepened its isolation," the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In Washington, the Obama administration also denounced the planned launching. "A North Korean 'satellite' launching would be a highly provocative act that threatens peace and security in the region," Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement on Saturday. She added that the United States was consulting with allies on the issue.

Since 1998, North Korea has launched several long-range rockets, which the United States and South Korean officials say have all exploded in midair or failed in their stated goal of putting satellites into orbit. North Korea, however, has insisted that two satellites were circling the earth.

North Korea has often used nuclear and missile threats during changes of power in the region as a way to try to force the new governments to engage in talks and possibly offer concessions. North Korea has also been accused of using military provocations to influence elections in the South.

This time, the announcement about the launching "could very well have to do primarily with domestic political considerations, that Kim Jong-un wants a demonstrable feat to boost his legitimacy, and his technicians have assured him they are ready," said John Delury, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul.

"It doesn't hurt that South Korea is in the middle of a string of aborted efforts at launching a satellite of their own; should Pyongyang succeed, it scores points in the ongoing inter-Korean rivalry, but also highlights what it sees as the hypocrisy of banning one Korea from doing what the other Korea does freely," he said.

Mr. Kim, the analyst, said it would be hard to predict how the planned rocket launching would affect the election in South Korea, which pits Park Geun-hye, the conservative candidate from the governing Saenuri Party, against Moon Jae-in, the liberal opposition candidate.

The North's planned action may be a disadvantage for Ms. Park, who has never served in the military, but at the same time it could help rally conservative voters. Mr. Moon could try to use the planned launching to rally liberal voters who oppose the conservatives' hard line and prefer a more aggressive engagement with North Korea as the best means of taming its behavior.

Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting from Washington.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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