The United States has warned that North Korea is preparing to launch a long-range missile, dismissing official statements from Pyongyang to the United Nations that the launch will actually involve a satellite.
Satellite imagery has indicated that North Korea is preparing to conduct rocket launches later this month from a test site known as Tongchang-ri. The movement of rocket components at the site has led to wild speculation about Pyongyang’s intentions.
On Tuesday, North Korea attempted to put the rumors to rest in a statement to the United Nations.
“We have received information from the DPRK regarding the launch of earth observation satellite ‘Kwangmyongsong’ between 8-25 February,” said a spokeswoman for the UN’s International Maritime Organization.
A separate UN agency, the International Telecommunication Union, was also informed that North Korea plans to launch a satellite into non-geostationary orbit that will have a functional duration of four years.
Yet this has done little to comfort officials in Washington, who are convinced that a satellite launch is a cover for a long-range missile test. This is based partially on allegations that a communications satellite launch in 2012 was accomplished with a long-range rocket.
“Our concern though is that they do a space-launch but really it’s the same technology to develop ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles],” said a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A separate US State Department official, also speaking anonymously, stressed that any North Korean satellite launch will be an “egregious violation” of its international obligations.
North Korea maintains that it has every right to pursue its own space program.
Last week, US Senator Cory Gardner said that Pyongyang’s upcoming test is meant to demonstrate North Korea’s ability to strike the American mainland.
“While [the head of US Northern Command Adm. William Gortney] has said they [North Korea] had the miniaturization capabilities and the ability to deliver to the US mainland, they haven’t tested it to the degree to prove that,” Gardner told Sputnik.
“We anticipate they will continue to do that.”
Last month, North Korea also drew scrutiny for conducting its fourth test of a nuclear bomb. While Pyongyang claimed that it was the first successful test of a hydrogen bomb, most experts examining the seismic effects determined it to be a less powerful atomic explosion.
The United Nations is considering the implementation of new sanctions over the nuclear test. If Pyongyang pursues a satellite launch later this month, the United States may push for additional penalties.
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