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N. Korea considers changing launch date

Seoul suggests technical problems are behind possible delay

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Published : 2012-12-09 20:50
Updated : 2012-12-09 20:55

This picture shows the Unha-3 rocket, installed at the launch pad in Tongchang-ri, North Korea. The rocket was fired on April, 13 but failed to reach orbit. (Yonhap News)
North Korea is considering rescheduling its planned long-range rocket launch, possibly due to technical problems, a Seoul government source said Sunday.

The North’s Korean Committee for Space Technology said Saturday that “due to a series of circumstances,” its scientists and technicians are cautiously considering readjusting the launch dates, originally slated for between Dec. 10 and 22.

“The North considering a new date appears to be because of technical problems. There were some signs of anomalies detected since Saturday afternoon,” the source said, declining to be named.

He did not elaborate on what the anomalies are.

Another government source said, “All preparatory activities around the launch site have come to a halt, and it is true that there have been a flurry of activities to fix some problems.”

Some observers said that some technical issues might have been raised while the North was conducting a last-phase inspection on Saturday of the three-stage rocket positioned at the Dongchang-ri launch site in North Pyongan Province.

Experts had anticipated that the North would start the fuel injection process as early as this weekend, and that it may launch it in up to three days after the fueling work is complete.

Concerning the possible readjustment of the launch dates, analysts pointed to several other reasons including weather conditions and international pressure including from China.

“Rather than pushing ahead with the rocket launch when they are not 100 percent ready, they might have decided to take more time. In addition to this and cold weather, it also had to consider the fact that neighboring states are against the launch,” said Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea expert at Korea University.

“It has already showed to the outside world that it was preparing for the launch to mark the first anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death and in that regard, it, at least, did something to save face.”

As the North was preparing for what it claims to be a satellite

launch, the international community put up a united front against the move, which could constitute a breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban any launches utilizing ballistic missile technology.

Amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts by Seoul, Washington and Japan to block the launch, China, the North’s strongest ally and patron, also warned against any move that would undermine peace and stability in the region.

“We want (the North) to act in a prudent manner,” Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in a press briefing last Friday.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has also expressed concern over the launch plan, demanding that the North reconsider it.

Several days before Pyongyang announced its launch plan on Dec. 1, Seoul and Washington consulted over the scope and punishment for the North’s provocation.

They have reportedly considered applying additional financial sanctions and expanding an international ban on North Korea’s military exports through maritime routes.

The North conducted what it calls satellite launches four times, in 1998, 2006, 2009 and this April, all of which ended in failure.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)

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