Sunday, April 5, 2009

Defiant N. Korea Launches Missile

Neighbors Express Dismay; U.S. Decries 'Provocative Act'

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service

TOKYO, April 5 -- North Korea launched a long-range missile Sunday morning, defying repeated international warnings, worrying its neighbors and setting up the prospect of increased sanctions.

The launch, from a base on the country's northeast coast, came shortly after 10:30 p.m. Saturday EDT, the U.S. State Department reported.

The three-stage rocket flew over Japan, with its first two booster stages falling harmlessly into the Sea of Japan -- also known as the East Sea -- and Pacific Ocean, respectively.

North Korea said the "peaceful" launch would put a communications satellite into orbit, and South Korean officials confirmed that the rocket was carrying a satellite. But President Obama called it a "provocative act" with which North Korea has "further isolated itself from the community of nations."

The apparently successful launch of the Taepodong-2 missile, which can fly as far as the western United States, came on its second test. The first, in 2006, failed after less than a minute. Experts said North Korea has been working on long-range missile development with Iran, which successfully launched a similar missile in February.

North Korea announced about four hours after the launch that it had succeeded in putting a satellite into orbit. "The satellite is rotating normally in its orbit," the Korean Central News Agency reported.

But there was no immediate confirmation of that from other governments. North Korea claimed in 1998, when it launched a Taepodong-1 missile, that it had succeeded in putting a satellite into orbit. The U.S. government later said the claim was false.

Japan's top government spokesman said the launch was "extremely regrettable." Takeo Kawamura added, "Even if it is a satellite launch, it is a breach of U.N. resolutions."

Obama echoed that point, calling it "a clear violation" of a resolution barring North Korea from any activities related to ballistic missiles.

South Korea, which had repeatedly asked the North not to launch the missile, reacted more in sadness than in anger.

"We cannot help but feel shame and be disappointed at North Korea's reckless behavior," said Lee Dong-kwan, a government spokesman.

"We are greatly disappointed that North Korea was willing to spend tremendous amounts of money in launching the rocket in spite of the food shortages they face," added Yu Myung-hwan, South Korea's minister of foreign affairs and trade. North Korea's struggling economy and chronic need for food aid have also complicated relations on the Korean Peninsula.

At the United Nations, the Security Council announced that it would convene Sunday afternoon to discuss the launch.

Diplomats there had been privately discussing a possible resolution that could tighten enforcement of existing sanctions on the communist nation. The country already faced demands and sanctions under a council resolution passed in 2006, after a North Korean nuclear test. New sanctions seemed unlikely in the face of probable resistance from China, North Korea's closest ally, and Russia.

South Korea said Sunday that the trajectory of the launch was consistent with an attempt to put the satellite into orbit. It was not immediately clear whether the payload had reached orbit.

Obama had said Friday that the launch would "put enormous strains" on multination negotiations with North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. He added that the United States will "take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that it can't threaten the safety and security of other countries with impunity."

North Korea, in turn, warned that it will pull out of those talks if the launch prompts any move toward new U.N. sanctions.

Staff writers Scott Wilson, Mary Beth Sheridan and Ann Scott Tyson in Washington and Colum Lynch at the United Nations and special correspondents Akiko Yamamoto in Tokyo and Stella Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

READ MORE---> Defiant N. Korea Launches Missile...

North Korea's Kim Jong-Il: a skilled and ruthless ruler

"...said to have been involved in planning a 1983 bomb attack in Myanmar..."

This undated picture, released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on April 5, 2009 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (centre) inspecting the renovated Pyongyang Grand Theatre in Pyongyang. Photo: AFP

North Korea's Kim Jong-Il, whose regime fired a long-range rocket Sunday, is a skilled and ruthless ruler who has kept his regime in place despite years of famine and economic decline.

The communist North says it launched a communications satellite as part of a peaceful space programme. The United States and its regional allies see the exercise as a disguised long-range missile test in defiance of UN resolutions.

Analysts say a successful launch will give the regime a major propaganda boost amid lingering uncertainty following Kim's reported stroke last August.

"The launch could be a strategy to rally the elite and public around Kim as he tries to put a succession plan in place," said Peter Beck, a professor at the American University in Washington DC.

Kim, now 67, has provided no public clues as to who will succeed him.

He inherited power from his father Kim Il-Sung in the communist world's only dynastic succession. But it is unclear whether he wants one of his three sons to take his place -- and if so, which one.

Kim perpetuates his power using propaganda, prison camps, an all-pervading personality cult inherited from his father and a 1.2 million-strong army.

He presided over a famine in the 1990s which by some estimates killed one million people, but still found resources to continue missile development and a nuclear weapons programme which culminated in a test in October 2006.

Kim has used the nuclear programme to extract concessions and aid from the West, although an international nuclear disarmament deal is currently stalled by a dispute over verification.

He has defied widespread predictions that his regime would collapse as the command economy wilted under its own contradictions and Soviet aid dried up.

The regime's secret, according to expert Andrei Lankov, was "its remarkable indifference to the sufferings of the common people."

The famine, Lankov has written, resulted from a deliberate decision to retain state-run agricultural cooperatives rather than risk a loss of political control.

From the rainbows that appeared over the sacred mountain where he was said to have been born, to his 11 holes-in-one in a single round of golf, Kim's official life story is steeped in myths of wisdom and greatness.

Visitors or escapees paint a less flattering picture of a cognac-guzzling playboy, with an appetite for foreign films, fine dining and women.

Officially Kim was born on February 16, 1942 at sacred Mount Paekdu. But independent experts say the birth took place in a guerrilla camp in Russia where his father was fighting Japanese forces who had colonised the Korean peninsula.

After graduating in 1964 from university, Kim began his climb through the ranks of the ruling Workers' Party.

He was said to have been involved in planning a 1983 bomb attack in Myanmar that killed 17 South Koreans, as well as the 1987 bombing on a Korean Air jet that left dead all 115 people on board.

His grooming for the succession began in 1974 but Kim waited for three years after his father's death in 1994 before formally assuming power.

Initially he promoted gradual engagement with the world, culminating in a historic June 2000 summit in Pyongyang with South Korea's then President Kim Dae-Jung.

The then-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang later that year. Both she and Kim Dae-Jung painted a portrait of a shrewd operator.

"He didn't appear to be a cold-minded theoretician but a very sensitive personality who had a sharp mind," Kim Dae-Jung was quoted as saying.

Albright described him as very well informed and "not delusional."

Kim could also display flashes of self-deprecating humour despite a streak of vanity which led him to wear stacked heels.

"Don't you think that I look like a midget's turd?" he reportedly asked a South Korean actress who had been kidnapped to the North and was later freed.

To his own people, such asides would be unthinkable.

Reportedly, he has never spoken live on television in his country. But he normally makes dozens of visits per year to schools, military bases and factories and above all cultivates ties to the military.

Some tentative economic reforms were introduced in 2002 but were partially rolled back in October 2005, apparently for fear they were weakening the regime's control.


READ MORE---> North Korea's Kim Jong-Il: a skilled and ruthless ruler...

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