North Korea plan to fire missile spurs doubt about US nuclear deal
North Korea's announcement that it would launch a long-range missile carrying a satellite throws into doubt the future of a food-for-nuclear-moratorium deal with the US.
Seoul, South Korea
North Koreaâ€™s state media said theÂ launch would coincide with massive celebrations surrounding the April 15 centennial of the birth of â€śGreat Leaderâ€ť Kim Il-sung, who ruled for nearly halfÂ a century before dyingÂ inÂ 1994 and leaving power to his son, Kim Jong-il, who died in December.Â Â
TheÂ US, Japan,Â and South Korea denounced the North Korean plan, revealed after a series of visits by Kim Jong-ilâ€™s third son, the Northâ€™s fledgling new â€śsupreme leaderâ€ť Kim Jong-un, to military units just above the demilitarized zone that has divided the two Koreas since the Korean War.
The plan for firing the missile again escalatesÂ regional tensions after hopes wereÂ raisedÂ inÂ Washington by the US-North Korea â€śleap yearâ€ť deal of Feb. 29. Â South Koreans have been highly skeptical of the deal, widely viewed as a North Korean attempt at deceiving theÂ USÂ while bypassing the South.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted at the damage that the launch of another long-range missile could do to the agreement withÂ North KoreaÂ under which theÂ USÂ is to provide 240,000 tons of food aid. US envoy Robert King was just in Beijing working out details for shipments, but Ms. Clinton warned thatÂ a missile launch would â€śpose a threat to regional security and would also be inconsistent with North Korea's recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches."
The view here is that a missile launch could derail the program, at least until more US-North Korea talks.
The North Korean announcement evoked memories of similar launches in August 1998 and April 2009 thatÂ North KoreaÂ insisted had put satellites into orbit. Analysts say no satellites were detected, andÂ that the actual purpose was to test the Northâ€™s Taepodong missile's potential for carrying a weapon of mass destruction, nuclear, biological, or chemical, as far as HawaiiÂ orÂ AlaskaÂ â€“ or even theÂ USÂ West Coast.
â€śIf these guys go through with long-range missile testing, of course theÂ USÂ willÂ have to revisit the food shipments,â€ť says Lee Jong-min, dean of the Graduate School of International Studies atÂ YonseiÂ University. â€śYou can never trust what these people say.â€ť
Doubts in South Korea have increased in recent days as Kim Jong-un has urged soldiers to be on high alert,Â primed to â€świpe outâ€ť South Koreaâ€™s regime, led by â€śtraitorâ€ť President Lee Myung-bak. South Korean officials have basically shrugged off such talk, but the government said a North KoreeanÂ missile test, under the pretext of launching a satellite, would be "a grave provocation."
North Korea is on a fearsome propaganda campaign widely seen as an effort to build up Kim Jong-un as a military figure. In North Korean rhetoric, Kim Jong-un is often compared to his grandfather in fighting spirit as well as physical appearance, and heâ€™sÂ credited with having approved the missile test of April 2009 andÂ a second nuclear test in May 2009.
Under the circumstances, â€śControversy will arise,â€ť says Kim Tae-woo, president of the Korea Institute for National Unification. â€śTheÂ USÂ will have to postpone food aid. It should not be allowed.â€ť
Ha Tae-keung, president of North Korea Open Radio, which broadcasts news, commentary, and music for two hours every day intoÂ North KoreaÂ by short wave from Seoul, sees the missile test as a possible prelude to a nuclear test later this year. He puts the testing in the context of US politics.
â€śKim Jong-un is testing theÂ USÂ before the presidential election,â€ť he says. â€śTheyÂ are going to see how the US and South KoreaÂ respond.â€ť