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Mysteries swirl around North Korea's satellite launch (+video)

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The big mystery, according to Mr. Kim at the defense ministry, is what the North Korean satellite is really doing up there. “It is not yet known what kind of mission the satellite is conducting,” he says. “It usually takes two weeks to evaluate whether a satellite is successful.”

US and South Korean officials are less concerned, however, about the equipment the satellite is carrying and what it’s supposed to accomplish than about the implications of the North’s ability to fire such an object from a long-range rocket or missile.

All that’s needed to turn the North Korean rocket into a vehicle for mass destruction, they say, is to substitute a warhead for the satellite.

The net result for US policy, predicts Nicholas Eberstadt at the American Enterprise Institute, is that “Washington will try to cut a deal with Pyongyang – again.” 

“The problem,” says Mr. Eberstadt, a prolific author of studies on North Korea, “is we don't have anything to offer that they really want – apart from South Korea.”

However, according to experts visiting Seoul for a conference of the Asan Institute here, the North Koreans may not be all that advanced in their program, even though the three-stage rocket has a theoretical range of about 7,500 miles – enough to carry a warhead as far as the US West Coast.

Vassily Mikheev, from Russia’s Institute for World Economy and International Relations, says the reliance on old technology means the launch is “a failure.” Mr. Mikheev, at the Asan conference, says the Scud technology is “for small missiles” – and therefore not reliable when they’re bundled in three distinct stages.

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