North Korea has notified the U.N.’s International Maritime Organization of its plan to launch an “earth observation satellite” later this month, a move that has raised concerns in the U.S. and with other world powers that Pyongyang is trying to covertly advance long-range missile technology.
North Korea submitted data, including the planned launch date and time and expected falling areas, to the U.N. agency Tuesday, according to Natasha Brown, IMO’s media and communications officer.
“We have received information from DPRK regarding the launch of earth observation satellite ‘Kwangmyongsong’ between 8-25 February,” Brown told VOA by email.
The North Korean rocket is expected to drop to earth in three stages off the western coast of South Korea and to the northern coast of the Philippines, according to the data.
The International Telecommunication Union, the U.N.’s agency for information and communication technologies, also said Pyongyang notified the agency of the plan on Tuesday.
Sanjay Acharya, ITU’s chief of media relations and public information, said Pyongyang informed his agency that it plans to launch the satellite “with a duration of function of four years.”
“We understand it will be in the non-geostationary orbit,” said Acharya.
Some analysts say the timing of the launch might be tied to the birth anniversary of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Kim’s birthday is February 16. In April 2012, Pyongyang fired a long-range rocket to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il Sung.
US issues protests
The U.S. responded with swift condemnation of the planned launch, which would come on the heels of what Pyongyang said was a successful test of a hydrogen bomb in January.
“This act [launch] would violate numerous Security Council resolutions by utilizing proscribed ballistic missile technology,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby.
At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the launch “would just be another destabilizing provocation on the part of the North Koreans.”
World powers have raised concerns that each test could move North Korean leader Kim Jong Un closer to a goal of developing a long-range nuclear missile. Pyongyang’s January test prompted the U.S. and other world powers to launch a push for additional U.N. Security Council penalties against the country.
China, a permanent Security Council member and an economic lifeline to North Korea, could play a pivotal role in any international response. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discussed the issue in Beijing last week. China has agreed that the international community should do more to respond to North Korea, but has declined to specify what that response should be.
“What has been constant is a series of provocative and destabilizing activities on the peninsula that continue to raise the concerns of everybody in the region, to include China,” said Kirby, who added the U.S. had not ruled out unilateral action.
Launch Announcement Comes During Chinese Envoy’s Visit
News of North Korea's intentions came shortly after China’s top nuclear envoy started his visit to Pyongyang, where he was expected to discuss North Korea’s latest nuclear test.
Wu Dawei, China’s special representative for Korean peninsula affairs, arrived in Pyongyang Tuesday, according to North Korea’s state media.
Last week, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim met with the Chinese envoy in Beijing.
Cautious UN Response
At a Tuesday briefing, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq offered a cautious response when asked if there is concern about the planned launch, saying officials are “carefully monitoring developments and in close touch with the interested parties.”
International sanctions ban Pyongyang from conducting nuclear tests or any launches using ballistic missile technology.
In December 2012, North Korea successfully fired into orbit an object in what appeared to be major progress in its long-range missile development.
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.