SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea warned the United States, Japan and their allies not to interfere with its plan to launch a satellite into space next month, saying Tuesday any intervention could doom already stalled talks on ending its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea has declared its intention to send a communications satellite into space between April 4 and 8, and a defense analyst said recent images of the launch pad indicated preparations were continuing. Regional powers suspect the North will use the launch to test its long-range missile technology, and has warned Pyongyang the launch would trigger international sanctions.
A 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution prohibits North Korea from engaging in ballistic activity, which Washington and its allies say includes firing a long-range missile or using a rocket to send a satellite into space.
On Tuesday, the North's Foreign Ministry reasserted its right to peaceful development of its space program.
"The countries which find fault with (North Korea's) satellite launch, including the U.S. and Japan, launched satellites before it," said the statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency. The stance proves their "their hostility toward us," it said.
The impending launch has raised tensions in the region. South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that the country's top nuclear negotiator, Wi Sung-lac said Seoul is working on responses to any rocket launch.
"As the clock ticks, we are placing more weight on countermeasures after a launch," he was quoted by Yonhap as saying on Tuesday.
Satellite images from March 16 indicate that preparations for the launch of a satellite are moving forward, but the rocket was not yet on the launch pad in those photos, analyst Christian Le Miere, an editor at Jane's Intelligence Review, said Tuesday.
It's possible the rocket has been placed on the launch pad since the images were taken, he said from London.
Japan has said it could shoot down debris from a botched missile launch, but the country's foreign minister cast doubt on that assertion on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said "it would be difficult" for Japan to intercept fragments of a missile that might fall into Japanese territory after a launch.
The North warned that the attempts by Washington and Tokyo to deny Pyongyang the right to use space for peaceful purposes was discriminatory and not in keeping with "spirit of mutual respect and equality" of a disarmament pact Pyongyang signed in 2005 with five other nations: China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the U.S.
Under the deal, the North pledged to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees. In 2007, the country agreed on the initial disarmament steps — disabling its main nuclear facilities in return for the equivalent of 1 million tons of energy aid and other benefits.
The disarmament process, however, has been stalled since last year over a disagreement with Washington over how to verify the North's past atomic activities.
The statement warned that sanctions would "deprive the six-party talks of any ground to exist or their meaning."
The North also said it would not abandon its nuclear weapons and had no choice but to strengthen its forces in the face of such hostility. The statement didn't elaborate.
Regional powers are looking to China, North Korea's biggest benefactor and longtime communist ally, to help calm tensions in the region and persuade the North to return to the negotiating table. Both China's president and premier have urged North Korea to come back to the talks in recent days.
Tensions have been running high on the divided Korean peninsula since a pro-U.S., conservative government took office in Seoul one year ago with a tougher policy on Pyongyang. The North cut off ties with South Korea, halted key joint projects and significantly restricted border traffic.
The U.S. stations about 28,500 troops to deter aggression from North Korea, which is still technically at war with South Korea since their 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this story from Tokyo.
"Saying Tuesday any intervention could doom already stalled talks on ending its nuclear weapons program."I am Tired of them playing Games....There is no Stalling anything with This Regime....they will do what they want...They Gain strength from one another and get Bolder as time goes by....They look at us as weak...nowdays......They dont fear anyone anymore....and the strange thing is...that will be their end......because we will respond unmercifully one day...because we wouldn't have a choice....hope it doesn't come to that.
N.Korea cracks me up with it's craziness. That part about basically becoming enemies with six other countries was gold! Warning world super powers? C'mon lol. Some big egos over there. They're like a spoiled bratty kid that doesn't listen. Oh, and isn't too bright either. The sad thing is, they'll eventually force action to be taken against them. Lets hope China no longer has their back by then.