SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Tuesday any attempt by the U.N. Security Council to punish it for trying to put a satellite in space would mean the collapse of international disarmament talks aimed at ending its nuclear program.
North Korea has said it would launch a satellite between April 4-8. Regional powers see the launch as a disguised test of its longest-range missile and a violation of U.N. sanctions forbidding the reclusive state from firing ballistic missiles.
“It is perversity to say satellite launch technology cannot be distinguished from a long-range missile technology and so must be dealt with by the U.N. Security Council, which is like saying a kitchen knife is no different from a bayonet,” state media quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.
The unidentified spokesman said “such an act of hostility” would be in defiance of the September 19 joint statement, a disarmament-for-aid deal the impoverished North reached with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
“If the September 19 joint statement is nullified, there will be neither the foundation nor the meaning for the existence of the six-party talks,” the spokesman said.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood called the North Korean comments unhelpful and urged Pyongyang to resume disarmament negotiations.
“This type of ... rhetoric just doesn’t promote the cause of peace on the Korean Peninsula. It raises tensions. We want to see them come back to the table,” Wood told reporters.
U.S. Army Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of U.S. forces in Korea, described the launch threat as part of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s effort to perpetuate his own rule.
“Kim Jong-il, I think, is still in complete control of his military and his policy,” Sharp said in testimony before the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
“What he is doing right now in (these) provocations is ... seeing to what point he can push the rest of the world to get concessions to be able to continue the regime,” he said.
North Korea has given international agencies notice of the rocket’s planned trajectory that would take it over Japan, dropping booster stages to its east and west.
Analysts said the notice was given to help the North argue the rocket launch does not violate U.N. sanctions put in place after it test-launched a series of missiles in 2006.
South Korea, Japan and the United States have all said they want to press sanctions against the North for a launch and see no difference between a satellite launch and a missile launch because they use the same rocket -- called the Taepodong-2.
The European Union agreed that Pyongyang’s planned satellite launch would contravene U.N. Security Council rules.
“Their ‘experimental satellite launch’ would be seen as a breach of the UN Security Council resolution,” the EU presidency held by the Czech republic, said in a statement after a meeting of EU delegates with North Korea authorities.
‘ACT OF WAR’
Japan may deploy two Aegis-equipped destroyers, capable of shooting down missiles, to waters between North Korea and Japan, Japanese media have said. The United States also has naval ships deployed in Asia that can intercept missiles.
North Korea has said shooting down the rocket would be an act of war.
Japan’s foreign minister said it would be difficult to intercept debris falling from the rocket.
“Our country has not done this before. We don’t know how or where it will fly,” Hirofumi Nakasone told reporters.
The first and only time the North test-launched the Taepodong-2 in 2006, it fizzled shortly into flight and blew apart after about 40 seconds.
China, which hosts the often-stalled nuclear disarmament talks, urged restraint.
The most recent snags in the talks are the North’s complaints that aid is not being delivered as promised, with the other five parties objecting to Pyongyang’s refusal to accept a nuclear inspection system.
North Korea has been working hard for weeks to prepare its launch tower to launch the rocket, Jane’s Intelligence Review said after reviewing satellite images.
Other experts have said it would take about a week to 10 days to prepare the rocket for launch once it is set vertically and placed on the launch pad.
Diplomats from Japan, South Korea and the United States will meet on Friday in Washington to discuss the planned rocket launch, Kyodo news agency said.
Additional reporting by the Tokyo bureau; Bate Felix in Brussels; and Arshad Mohammed and David Morgan in Washington, editing by Philip Barbara