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March 15, 2012

US: N. Korea Rocket Launch Would Make Food Aid 'Hard to Imagine'

by Scott Stearns

The United States says North Korea's planned rocket launch imperils the delivery of food aid as part of last month's agreement on nuclear inspections.  North Korea announced Friday that it will launch a satellite-carrying a long-range rocket in April.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says the North Korean launch would violate U.N. resolutions prohibiting the use of ballistic missile technology and counters last month's agreement to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to again inspect  North Korean nuclear sites.

"This calls into question whether, when the DPRK entered into that agreement with us, they did so in good faith. Because at the time, we did warn them that we consider that a satellite launch of this kind would be an abrogation of that agreement,” Nuland said.

Nuland says it is a highly provocative move that makes the delivery of 240,000 tons of food aid hard to imagine. While she says the United States does not link humanitarian assistance with political issues, Washington will not deliver food aid to Pyongyang unless it is convinced that food will go to those in need.

“It's very hard to imagine that if we have a satellite launch - which would call into question their good faith and whether they keep any of the commitments that they make, that we would be able to have confidence in the monitoring arrangements that we are trying to make with them, or that the environment would be such, would be sufficiently tension-free that we could actually implement those agreements,” Nuland said.

Last month's agreement to restart nuclear inspections was the first made by the new government of Kim Jong Un, who took power following his father's death in December. It was the most apparent progress since 2009, when North Korea pulled out of an aid-for-disarmament deal with the United States, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.

Nuland says the Obama administration's special representative for North Korea, Glyn Davies, has spoken with his counterparts in China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea and they are all working to encourage North Korea to change course.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says he is seriously concerned about North Korea's planned launch and is urging Pyongyang to reconsider its decision.

The North Korean announcement says the satellite payload will be carried into orbit on an Unha-3 rocket - the latest version of a three-stage, long-range ballistic missile that intelligence sources believe is designed to eventually carry nuclear weapons.