North Korea gears up to launch long-range rocket
FILE - In this April 8, 2012 file photo, a group of journalists walk down a road in front of North Korea's Unha-3 rocket at Sohae Satellite Station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea. April 8, 2012. North Korea said Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 it will launch a long-range rocket between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22. The launch will heighten already strained tensions with South Korean ahead of its presidential election on Dec. 19. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File)
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea is gearing up to fire a long-range rocket this month in a defiant move expected to raise the stakes of a global standoff over its missile and nuclear programs.
The North's announcement Saturday that it would launch the rocket between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22 came as President Barack Obama prepares for his second term and as South Korea holds a presidential election Dec. 19.
It would be North Korea's second launch attempt under leader Kim Jong Un, who took power following his father Kim Jong Il's death nearly a year ago. Some analysts have expressed skepticism that North Korea has corrected whatever caused the embarrassing misfire of its last rocket eight months ago. That launch earned the country widespread international condemnation.
A spokesman for North Korea's Korean Committee for Space Technology, however, said scientists have "analyzed the mistakes" made in the failed April launch and improved the precision of its Unha rocket and Kwangmyongsong satellite, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
The statement said the launch was a request of late leader Kim Jong Il. He died on Dec. 17, 2011, and North Koreans are expected to mark that date this year with some fanfare. The space agency said the rocket would be mounted with a polar-orbiting Earth observation satellite, and maintained its right to develop a peaceful space program.
Washington considers North Korea's rocket launches to be veiled covers for tests of technology for long-range missiles designed to strike the United States, and such tests are banned by the United Nations.
"A North Korean 'satellite' launch would be a highly provocative act," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington, D.C. "Any North Korean launch using ballistic missile technology is in direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions."
FILE - This Monday Nov. 26, 2012 file satellite image provided by DigitalGlobe and annotated by 38 North, the website of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, shows the Sohae Satellite Launch Station in Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, North Korea. North Korea said Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 it will launch a long-range rocket between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22, a move likely to heighten already strained tensions with Washington and Seoul ahead of South Korean presidential elections Dec. 19. (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe via 38 North, File)
In 2009, North Korea conducted rocket and nuclear tests within months of Obama taking office.
China, the North's main ally and aid provider, also expressed concerns about the launch. Beijing's Foreign Ministry on Sunday acknowledged North Korea's right to the peaceful use of outer space, but said that had to be harmonized with restrictions including those set by the U.N. Security Council.