Wednesday, April 11, 2012

N. Korea Fuels Rocket; Launch Window Nears

North Korea is fueling its rocket--really an ICBM--ahead of two weeks of celebrations of the 100th birthday of the state's founder. Click here for the news.

Paek Chang Ho, chief of North Korea's launch command center, announced the fueling to a visiting group of foreign reporters, saying fuel was being loaded into the rocket as he spoke. The journalists, who visited the launch site Sunday, were able to view the activity by video, which was fed live to the remote command center on Wednesday.

Paek also said a weather satellite has been installed on the rocket, which is set for launch sometime between this Thursday and next Monday, depending on weather conditions. The video showed a tarpaulin draped over the top of the rocket, making that claim impossible to confirm.

The scheduled launch has angered many of North Korea's neighbors, which see the action as a ploy to test a ballistic missile that could later be fitted with a nuclear warhead.

N. Korea Space Official Speaks

Ryu Gum Chol, deputy director of North Korea's space program, told a reporter from VOA's Korean service that the only purpose of the launch is space exploration.

"It seems to me that your worries are unfounded. I reckon that the timing is important now, and you will know everything once you attend the April 15 centenary of the birth of former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung," he said. "The rocket we have developed is only for the purpose of space exploration, so to claim it is for ballistic missile development is illogical."

But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that the launch has raised doubts about North Korea's claims that it wants to improve ties with its neighbors and the United States.

Clinton Comments at Annapolis

In a speech Tuesday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Clinton noted that the launch comes just weeks after Pyongyang agreed to suspend its nuclear and missile programs.

"The speed of the turnaround raises questions about Pyongyang's seriousness in saying that it desires to improve relations with us and its neighbors," Clinton said. "This launch will give credence to the view that North Korean leaders see improved relations with the outside world as a threat to the existence of their system. And recent history strongly suggests that additional provocations may follow.''

U.S. officials fear that Pyongyang may be planning to follow the launch with another underground nuclear weapons test. Satellite intelligence photographs made available to news organizations this week show evidence of preparations for such a test.