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North says satellite launch coming within two weeks

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An ″important final-stage″ test for the development of a military reconnaissance satellite takes place at the North's Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province, on Dec. 18, 2022. [YONHAP]
An ″important final-stage″ test for the development of a military reconnaissance satellite takes place at the North’s Sohae Satellite Launching Ground in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province, on Dec. 18, 2022. [YONHAP]

North Korea plans to launch its first military reconnaissance satellite within two weeks to monitor “dangerous” military activity by the United States and South Korea, state media said Tuesday.

Ri Pyong-chol, vice chairman of the ruling Worker’s Party Central Military Commission, called Pyongyang’s planned satellite launch an “indispensable” step to strengthen its self-defense capabilities in an English-language statement carried by Pyongyang’s state-controlled Korean Central News Agency.

The statement marks the regime’s first public disclosure of the adjusted time frame of the pending launch.

It came the same day the North notified the International Maritime Organization that it plans to launch a satellite between May 31 and June 11 — more than a month later than the original time frame announced by the regime in December last year.

Pyongyang’s state media at the time released blurry, bird’s-eye view photographs of Seoul and neighboring Incheon to demonstrate it was close to completing development of its first military reconnaissance satellite, which it said would be launched in April.

According to Ri, the reconnaissance satellite that will be launched by the North is “indispensable to tracking, monitoring, discriminating, controlling and coping with in advance in real time the dangerous military acts” of South Korea and the United States.

The North Korean general also warned that Pyongyang aims to “expand reconnaissance and information means and improve various defensive and offensive weapons and have the timetables for carrying out their development plans.”

State media announced earlier this month that the regime had completed preparations to fire a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit and reported that leader Kim Jong-un signed off on the plan.

Recent satellite imagery of the North’s Sohae Satellite Testing Ground in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province shows that construction of a new launch facility is proceeding quickly, with structures appearing in less than a week.

A spy satellite has long been on the North Korean leader’s wish list of sophisticated military assets, having been first mentioned during his speech at the eighth congress of the ruling Workers’ Party held in January 2021.

Other items on Kim’s wish list included “miniaturized and tactical” nuclear weapons, “super-large hydrogen bombs,” mid-to-long range cruise missiles, anti-aircraft rocket systems, heavy tanks, howitzers, multiple-warhead missiles, new types of ballistic missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles and “hypersonic gliding flight warheads.”

In his statement, Ri blamed the United States and South Korea for raising the heat on the peninsula by conducting their largest combined live-fire exercise in six years last week.

The general also took offense to the South’s plan to hold a multinational naval exercise on Wednesday that targets shipments of materials and components for weapons of mass destruction, as well as flights by U.S. reconnaissance planes over the Yellow Sea on May 14 and 15.

“We will comprehensively consider the present and future threats and put into more thoroughgoing practice the activities for strengthening all-inclusive and practical war deterrents,” Ri said.

Seoul on Monday issued a “strong” warning against Pyongyang’s planned satellite launch.

The U.S. State Department also said Monday that a satellite launch by North Korea would violate United Nations Security Council resolutions that prohibit the regime from conducting tests of ballistic missile technology.

“Any DPRK launch that uses ballistic missile technology, which would include [space launch vehicles] used to launch a satellite into space, violates multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions” because “space launch vehicles incorporate technologies that are identical to, and interchangeable with, those used in ballistic missiles,” a State Department spokesperson told Yonhap, referring to the North by the acronym for its official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The North claimed that it has the right to develop “peaceful” space programs when it launched the Kwangmyongsong-4, a purported Earth observation satellite, in February 2016.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]