North Korea plans to launch a satellite mounted on a long-range rocket to mark the 100th birthday of its late founder Kim II-Sung next month, according to the state media reports. The country will have huge celebrations across the country on the occasion of the late former president's birth centenary on April 15.
The launch move is quite surprising as it comes just weeks after an agreement in which Pyongyang agreed to halt its nuclear program, including a moratorium on long-range missiles in exchange for food aid from the U.S.
The launch will happen between March 12 and April 16 from a launch pad in the Cholsan county, North Phyongan province, state media reported, citing a statement by the spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology. The satellite named Kwangmyongsong-3 will be placed in the same orbit as the earlier two satellites in the Kwangmyongsong series, by a new rocket called Unha-3.
The last similar launch by North Korea was in April, three years ago, and the first satellite launch was in April 1998. Pyongyang had claimed to have placed its satellites successfully in the targeted orbit, while foreign experts had found no proof for the same.
The rocket launch in 2009 was widely viewed as a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from carrying on any kind of nuclear and long-range missile launch activities.
North Korea claims its satellite launches demonstrates its technological advancement and is meant for peaceful scientific purposes, but western forces believe it to be a cover for its clandestine nuclear weaponry program.
Critics believe that North Korea as usual has found out a loophole in the agreement to continue with its nuclear program even while receiving U.S. aid. Since the technology used for both the satellite launch and long-range nuclear-ballistic missile is similar, the current satellite launch would provide them with a chance to test fire their long-range intercontinental missile technology.
The missile launch plan can derail the current agreement with the U.N. Security Council as it involves violating the agreement term of not testing long-range missiles. The move will naturally draw sharp criticism from the U.S. and its allies. If the U.S. chooses to take a serious note of the rocket launch then there is a possibility that North Korea may not receive the 240,000 tons of food aid that it badly needs.
However, the announcement of the rocket launch by the regime has justified the assertions of skeptics that Pyongyang cannot be trusted when it comes to its promises of nuclear disarmament. It also indicates that North Korea will carry on with its dangerous nuclear program and continue to keep the world and the nuclear disarmament process on tenterhooks.