North Korea Warns Other Nations Against Satellite Interference

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - 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 hinted it could shoot down any missile, 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.


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