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Analysts: North Korea Unlikely to Fire Rocket at Anniversary

  • Han Sang Mi

FILE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides a rocket-launching drill in this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang, December 2014.

FILE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un guides a rocket-launching drill in this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang, December 2014.

North Korea may not fire a long-range rocket during the country’s much-touted party anniversary next week, analysts in Seoul say.

Traditionally, North Korea celebrates an important event by holding a high-profile military parade. Launching a rocket has been part of the celebration. In April, 2012, the communist country conducted a long-range rocket launch that ended in failure to celebrate its biggest holiday in decades, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of the country.

Recently, North Korea has indicated its intent to fire a long-range rocket. The move coincided with Pyongyang’s preparations for another high-profile celebration, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party, October 10, sparking widespread speculation that Pyongyang could fire a long-range rocket to mark the anniversary.

Pyongyang’s opaqueness coupled with provocative statements have fueled the speculation.

This week, North Korea’s ambassador in London said his country is ready to conduct the launch “at any time or any place.

“We have nothing to be afraid of. We will go ahead, definitely, surely,” said Hyun Hak Bong.

Doubts about anniversary launch

Doubts are growing among officials and analysts in Seoul about whether Pyongyang will indeed conduct the controversial launch before the anniversary. Analysts note Pyongyang has been vague about the timing despite its aggressive rhetoric.

On Friday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said there has been no indication of North Korea’s rocket launch.

“South Korea and the United States are closely monitoring the situation. There has been no sign of North Korea’s provocations so far,” Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman for the ministry, told reporters.

Some analysts say Pyongyang’s launch at the party anniversary seems increasingly unlikely considering time and necessary steps needed for the launch.

Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University, said Pyongyang might be trying to use the launch as a political bargaining chip in its dealing with the world.

But “an immediate tension raising provocation may help Pyongyang win a temporary internal solidarity, but in the long run it will become an obstacle to the improvement of the nation’s economy and people’s lives,” said Koh.

Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, said Pyongyang appears to be gauging international response to its overtures while calculating timing for the launch. But, Chang added, Pyongyang is not likely to give up the launch entirely.

High-profile military parade

Pyongyang is expected to show off its military might with a massive military parade at the anniversary, according to officials in Seoul.

An official who asked to remain anonymous told VOA, Pyongyang is mobilizing its military hardware, including aircraft, missiles, armed vehicles, multiple rocket-launchers for a rehearsal at an airport near the capital Pyongyang.

Another official said the anniversary ceremony is an important political event for Kim Jong Un, adding Pyongyang is likely to use the ceremony to promote Kim’s legitimacy as a leader.

Previously, Pyongyang often showcased new weapons systems at such a military parade.

“We may see advanced long-range artilleries. It is possible that some drones might be displayed. Medium-range and short-range missiles are also expected,” said Kim Jong-dae, a military analyst.

Key members of the six-party talks, multistate talks aimed at resolving disputes over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programs, have called on North Korea to refrain from provocative actions. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned North Korea would face “severe consequences” if it proceeds with its threat.

Pyongyang insists a right to launch a long-range rocket, saying it is part of a peaceful space project, but U.N. Security Council resolutions require Pyongyang to stop conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology.

In December 2012, North Korea fired a long-range rocket, prompting the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution tightening sanctions against Pyongyang.
Kim Hwan Yong, Kim Eunjee, Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.

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