U.S. President Barack Obama is set to attend a nuclear security summit in South Korea this week, but although North Korea won’t be attending, he was keen to send a clear warning to Pyongyang, declaring it would “achieve nothing by threats or provocation.”
The president’s tough talk comes on the heels of an agreement between the United States and North Korea last month that traded “a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests, and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities” for food aid.
Still, the U.S. was careful to greet the deal with only cautious optimism, declaring the agreement a “modest first step in the right direction. We, of course, will be watching closely and judging North Korea's new leaders by their actions."
Such caution was possibly wise, as the deal is now potentially already in jeopardy with North Korea’s declaration this month that it intends to launch a satellite, which many defense analysts believe will actually be cover for a test of its ballistic missile technology.
Japan has for its part declared its intention to deploy AEGIS ballistic missile defense (BMD) and PAC-3 batteries should North Korea’s “satellite” flight path come close to Japan. Indeed, theJapan Times today reported, “The rocket's trajectory is expected to pass over the Sakishima island chain in Okinawa, at the southernmost tip of the Japanese archipelago.”
There’s also the possibility that the launch could send the rocket soaring over parts of South Asia. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, while visiting Sydney, delivered a troubling message to his counterparts in Australia.
“If the missile test proceeds as North Korea has indicated, our judgment is that it will impact in an area roughly between Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines,” Campbell declared.
He added: “We have never seen this trajectory before. We have weighed into each of these countries and asked them to make clear that such a test is provocative and this plan should be discontinued.”
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who spoke alongside Obama, declared that Seoul and Washington would “respond sternly to any provocations and threats by the North and to continually enhance the firm South Korea-U.S. defense readiness.” South Korea is also reportedly exploring the possibility of expanding the range of its own ballistic missiles in response to North Korean actions.
Obama called on Chinato do more to rein in its ally. “I believe that China is very sincere that it does not want to see North Korea with a nuclear weapon,” he said. “But it is going to have to act on that interest in a sustained way.”
North Korea, meanwhile, has declared the launch part of a “peaceful space program.” Reports today indicated that North Korea had already moved its long-range ballistic rocket to a northwestern launch site. The rocket, Kwangmyongsong-3 or Bright Star -3, is expected to be launched sometimes between April 12 and 16. It has been described by North Korea as an “earth observation satellite.”
North Korea’s state news agency released a statement from the North Korean Foreign Ministrylast Friday that declared “The DPRK’s launch of the working satellite is an exercise of an independent and legitimate right pursuant to universally accepted international laws on peaceful use of space including the Space Treaty which reflects the general will of the international community which stands above the UNSC resolution.”
The statement added that “It is intolerable double standards for some countries to assert that the DPRK only is not allowed to launch satellites while they are launching them as commonplace events.”
The statement also warned of “countermeasures” if there is “any sinister attempt to deprive the (North) of its independent and legitimate right.” But North Korea also sounded an optimistic note on implementing the recent “Leap Day” deal: “The DPRK remains unchanged in its stand to sincerely implement the DPRK-U.S. agreement. We have already invited a delegation of the International Atomic Energy Agency to discuss the procedures to verify the moratorium on uranium enrichment activities and are coming to sincere understanding for implementing the agreement with the U.S. side.”