SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Wednesday it successfully placed a spy satellite into orbit in its third launch attempt this year, demonstrating the country’s determination to build a space surveillance system during prolonged tensions with the UNITED STATES.
The North’s claims could not be immediately and independently confirmed. Observers doubt whether the satellite is advanced enough to carry out military reconnaissance. But the launch nonetheless drew strong condemnation from the United States and its partners, as the UN bans North Korea from satellite launches, calling them covers for missile technology tests .
North Korea’s space agency said its new “Collima-1” carrier rocket precisely placed the Malligyong-1 satellite into orbit Tuesday evening, about 12 minutes after liftoff from the country’s main launch center.
The National Aerospace Technology Administration called the launch North Korea’s legitimate right to strengthen its self-defense capabilities. He added that the spy satellite would help improve the North’s war preparedness in the face of “dangerous military movements by the enemy.”
The agency said leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the launch on site and praised the scientists and others involved. He said North Korea would launch several additional spy satellites to better monitor South Korea and other areas.
US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Washington strongly condemns North Korea for the launch, saying it “increases tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region and at -of the”. She said the launch involved technologies directly linked to North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile program.
South Korea’s military has said it will remain ready to repel any provocation from North Korea on the basis of an alliance with the United States. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called the launch “a serious threat that affects the safety of the population” and said Japan had lodged a protest with North Korea, condemning the launch in the strongest terms.
According to South Korean and Japanese estimates, the rocket carrying the satellite flew from the west coast of the Korean Peninsula and over the Japanese island of Okinawa towards the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese government briefly issued a J-Alert missile warning for Okinawa, urging residents to take shelter.
A spy satellite is among the top military assets coveted by Kim, who wants to modernize his weapons systems to deal with what he calls escalating U.S.-led threats. North Korea’s launch attempts earlier this year ended in failure due to technical problems.
North Korea had promised that a third launch would take place in October. South Korean officials said the delay was likely because North Korea was receiving Russian technological assistance for its spy satellite launch program.
North Korea and Russia, two adversaries of the United States increasingly isolated globally, have made strong efforts to expand relations in recent months. In September, Kim traveled to Russia’s Far East to meet President Vladimir Putin and visit key military sites, sparking intense speculation about an arms deal.
The alleged deal involves North Korea supplying conventional weapons to replenish Russia’s munitions stockpile depleted in its war with Ukraine. In return, foreign governments and experts say North Korea is seeking Russian help to strengthen its nuclear and military programs.
During Kim’s visit to Russia, Putin told state media that his country would help North Korea build satellites, saying Kim “shows keen interest in rocket technology.”
Russia and North Korea have rejected allegations about their arms transfer deal as baseless. Such a deal would violate UN bans on any arms trade involving North Korea.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said Tuesday’s launch raised more questions than answers, such as whether the North Korean satellite actually performed reconnaissance functions and whether Russia had provided technical and even material assistance.
“What is already clear is that this is not a one-off event but part of a North Korean strategy of prioritizing military capabilities over economic development, “to threaten rather than reconcile with South Korea, and to align more with Russia and China instead of pursuing diplomacy with South Korea. in the United States,” Easley said.
Since last year, North Korea has conducted about 100 missile tests in an effort to build a reliable arsenal of nuclear weapons targeting the United States and its allies. Many foreign experts say North Korea still has some final technologies to master to acquire functional nuclear missiles.
But experts say having a rocket capable of placing a satellite into orbit would mean North Korea could build a missile capable of carrying a warhead similar in size to the satellite.
In written responses to questions from The Associated Press last week, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said the North’s successful launch of a reconnaissance satellite “would mean that North Korea’s ICBM capabilities have been taken to a higher level.
South Korea’s military suggested Monday it could suspend a 2018 inter-Korean agreement aimed at reducing tensions and resume front-line aerial surveillance and shooting exercises if the North goes ahead with its launch.
Japan’s coast guard said earlier Tuesday that North Korea had told Tokyo it would launch a satellite between Wednesday and Nov. 30. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno criticized North Korea for carrying out the launch before the start of the window.
North Korea is under 11 rounds of UN sanctions over its previous nuclear and missile tests. But the North is unlikely to be hit with new sanctions following Tuesday’s launch. Russia and China have already blocked any response from the UN Security Council to the North’s recent round of launching activities.
In June, Kim’s sister and senior ruling party official, Kim Yo Jong, called the Security Council a “political appendage” of the United States. She criticized the council, calling it “discriminatory and rude”, saying it only challenges the North’s satellite launches when thousands of satellites launched by other countries are already operational.
North Korea’s two previous satellite launches in May and August involved the same rocket and satellite used in Tuesday’s launch.
In the first attempt, the North Korean rocket carrying the satellite crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff. North Korean authorities said the rocket lost thrust after its first and second stages separated. After the second attempt, North Korea said there had been an error in the emergency fire system during the third stage flight.
South Korea collected debris from the first launch and called the satellite too crude to carry out military reconnaissance.
Some civilian experts have said that North Korea’s Malligyong-1 satellite is likely only capable of detecting large targets like warships or aircraft. But by operating multiple such satellites, North Korea could still observe South Korea at any time, they said.
Kim is eager to introduce other sophisticated weapons such as more mobile ICBMs, nuclear-powered submarines and missiles with multiple warheads. Observers say Kim would ultimately want to use an expanded weapons arsenal to extract greater concessions from the United States, such as sanctions relief, when diplomacy resumes.
In response, the United States and South Korea have expanded regular military exercises and increased temporary deployments of powerful U.S. military assets to South Korea. On Tuesday, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its battle group arrived at a South Korean port in a new show of force against North Korea.
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