Pentagon: U.S. Takes Prospect of North Korea Launch Seriously
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 5, 2012 The Defense Department is closely monitoring the prospect of a long-range rocket launch this month by North Korea, a senior Pentagon official told reporters today.
“The North Koreans will be violating [United Nations] Security Council resolutions if they move ahead with such a launch,” said George Little, acting assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, “and we call on them, as other countries have, not to launch the missile.”
A spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology announced March 16 that North Korea would launch a long-range Unha-3 rocket between April 12 and 16.
The rocket would carry a North Korean-made Kwangmyongsong-3 polar-orbiting observation satellite to mark the 100th birthday of the late President Kim Il Sung on April 15.
“This is very serious business when North Korea does something like this,” Little said. “We’re monitoring it closely. We understand the impact it could have on regional stability.”
North Korea tried to launch satellites into space in 1998 and in 2009, but the launches’ success has never been confirmed.
“We’re working very closely with our Republic of Korea allies as well as our Japanese allies to monitor what’s happening with respect to this missile launch,” Little said. “We hope it doesn’t happen. But if it does, we’ll be ready to track it.”
If launched, the satellite would travel southward from the Sohae satellite launch station in North Phyongan province’s Cholsan County, North Korean officials said in the statement.
“A safe flight orbit has been chosen so that carrier rocket debris to be generated during the flight would not have any impact on neighboring countries,” they added.
North Korean officials said they will “strictly abide by relevant international regulations and usage concerning the launch of scientific and technological satellites for peaceful purposes.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said March 16 that U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 “clearly and unequivocally prohibit North Korea from conducting launches that use ballistic-missile technology.”
“Such a missile launch would pose a threat to regional security,” she added, “and would also be inconsistent with North Korea’s recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches.”
State Department officials are consulting closely with international partners on next steps, Nuland said.
At the Pentagon today, Little said the Defense Department is operating on the assumption that the launch could happen. The North Koreans have indicated that they intend to launch the satellite, he noted.
“They have done so in the past,” Little said, “so if history is any guide to the future, we would be remiss if we didn’t take those North Korean announcements for what they are.”
In terms of U.S. allies in the region who could potentially be affected by the launch, Little said, “we have an unwavering commitment to the security of both Japan and the Republic of South Korea.”
Such a launch is unacceptable to the United States and other nations, Little said.
“I believe we have what we need to track [the launch] and to also work closely with our allies in the region to respond,” he added.