North Korean space officials have moved all three stages of a long-range rocket into position for a controversial launch, vowing Sunday to push ahead with their plan in defiance of international warnings against violating a ban on missile activity.
The Associated Press was among foreign news agencies allowed a firsthand look at preparations under way at the coastal Sohae Satellite Station in northwestern North Korea.
North Korea announced plans last month to launch an observation satellite using a three-stage rocket during mid-April celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. The U.S., Japan, Britain and other nations have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, warning that firing the long-range rocket would violate U.N. resolutions and North Korea’s promise to refrain from engaging in nuclear and missile activity.
North Korea maintains that the launch is a scientific achievement intended to improve the nation’s faltering economy by providing detailed surveys of the countryside.
“Our country has the right and also the obligation to develop satellites and launching vehicles,” Jang Myong Jin, general manager of the launch facility, said during a tour, citing the U.N. space treaty. “No matter what others say, we are doing this for peaceful purposes.”
Experts say the Unha-3 rocket slated for liftoff between April 12 and 16 could also test long-range missile technology that might be used to strike the U.S. and other targets.
North Korea has tested two atomic devices, but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a warhead on a long-range missile.