North Korea touts satellite advances, raising prospect of rocket launch

Story highlights

U.S.: A satellite launch using ballistic missile technology would breach U.N. sanctions

"Space development for peaceful purposes is a sovereign state's legitimate right," the North says

Seoul, South Korea CNN  — 

North Korea says it is in the “final phase” of developing a new satellite, raising the prospect of a long-range rocket launch that would provoke international condemnation.

The world should expect to see a series of North Korean satellites “soaring into the sky,” the country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Monday, citing a senior aerospace official.

Although nuclear-armed North Korea insists its satellite launches are for peaceful purposes, they are widely viewed as tests of ballistic missile technology that aid its weapons program.

“There are multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions that require North Korea to suspend all activities related to their ballistic missile program and re-establish a moratorium on missile launches, stop conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology, and abandon its ballistic missile program in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in response to a question about the North Korean announcement.

“Any satellite launch using ballistic missile technology would be a clear violation of those resolutions,” Kirby said at a regular news briefing Monday in Washington.

Timing of any launch unclear

The director of North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration, the official cited in the state media report, didn’t specify when any launches might take place.

Their times and locations will be set by the Central Committee of the ruling Workers Party of Korea, said the official, who wasn’t identified by name in the report.

Observers have speculated that North Korea may launch a long-range rocket carrying a satellite in October around the 70th anniversary of the ruling party.

North Korea last conducted a long-range rocket launch in December 2012, prompting the U.N. Security Council to expand sanctions on Kim Jong Un’s regime.

That launch appeared to put an object in orbit. North Korea had previously claimed that two other long-range rockets it launched in the past had successfully launched satellites, but other countries say they fell into the ocean before completing the task.

Launch station upgraded

Experts say that since the 2012 launch, Kim’s regime has upgraded its Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

The North Korean aerospace official said Monday that “successful progress made in reconstructing and expanding satellite launching grounds for higher-level satellite liftoff has laid a firm foundation for dynamically pushing ahead with the nation’s development of space science.”

An article in July on 38 North, a website that specializes in analysis of North Korea, said satellite images suggested workers had finished building a moving support structure that would be used to erect rocket elements and transport them to the launch tower for the final assembly and inspection.

Analysts said the upgrade allows the site to accommodate larger satellite launch vehicles than the UNHA-3 SLV, which had been used in the past.

Last month, another 38 North analysis found no signs of preparations for a rocket launch at the site. But it noted that North Korea had recently taken steps that make it harder for outsiders to observe developments at the launching station.

North claims ‘big progress’ in satellite research

North Korea, whose official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, appeared to dismiss in advance any objections to its launch plans.

“Space development for peaceful purposes is a sovereign state’s legitimate right recognized by international law and the Party and the people of the DPRK are fully determined to exercise this right no matter what others may say about it,” the aerospace official said.

He said the new Earth observation satellite’s uses would include forecasting the weather, claiming the North has made “big progress” in its research into geostationary satellites.

Japan, whose territory the North Korean rocket flew over in 2012, echoed the U.S. view that a new satellite launch would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“We will closely liaise with the U.S. and South Korea and continue to demand that North Korea refrain from provocative actions,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday at a regular news briefing.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said it was closely watching “the latest report regarding North Korea’s plan to launch a rocket” but declined to provide further comment on the matter.

CNN’s Kathy Novak reported from Seoul, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Yoko Wakatsuki and journalist HyoungJoo Choi contributed to this report.

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