North Korea satellite ‘tumbling in orbit,’ U.S. official says
WASHINGTON — The satellite North Korea fired into space on Sunday is “tumbling in orbit” and incapable of functioning in any useful way, a senior U.S. defense official told CNN.
Sunday’s launch of the long-range rocket triggered a wave of international condemnation and prompted strong reaction from an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
North Korea maintained the launch was for scientific and “peaceful purposes.”
South Korea has recovered about 270 pieces of debris, believed to have come from the rocket launch, from the ocean Sunday and is working to analyze the objects, a South Korean Defense Ministry official told CNN.
However unlike previous launches, North Korea appears to have affixed a self-destructing device to the rocket booster in order to prevent other parties from studying its capabilities.
North Koreans celebrated the country’s launch of a satellite into orbit with an official fireworks display Monday night in Pyongyang, state broadcaster KCTV reported.
“We hope that the future of our space technology keeps growing and shines like these fireworks in the sky,” an announcer on the North Korean broadcaster said during coverage of the celebrations in the capital.
The United States and other nations widely viewed the deployment of the dual-use technology as a front to test a ballistic missile, especially coming on the heels of a purported hydrogen bomb test last month.
Yoon Dong Hyun, vice director of the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, struck a defiant note in a speech at the celebrations, vowing the country would continue developing its aerospace technology in the face of international sanctions. Efforts by other countries to block such an advance were “nothing more than a puppy barking towards the moon,” he said.
A South Korean lawmaker said intelligence suggested the launch had likely been timed to coincide with the Super Bowl and Chinese New Year to maximize international media impact.
“The date of the launch appears to be in consideration of the weather condition and ahead of the Lunar New Year and the U.S. Super Bowl,” said Jo Ho-young, chairman of the South Korean National Assembly Intelligence Committee.
Pyongyang carried out both acts in defiance of international sanctions. Eight nations alongside the European Union and NATO issued statements quickly opposing the launch.
At an emergency meeting Sunday, members of the Security Council “strongly condemned” the launch and reaffirmed that “a clear threat to international peace and security continues to exist, especially in the context of the nuclear test.”
It vowed to undertake punitive actions against North Korea, announcing plans to “adopt expeditiously a new Security Council resolution with such measures in response to these dangerous and serious violations,” according to a statement read by Venezuela’s ambassador to the United Nations after the meeting.
Sanctions already in place against Pyongyang ban it from working with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, blacklist certain figures and organizations and prohibit the import of luxury goods.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye called the launch a “challenge to world peace,” while her government announced it would begin talks with the United States to deploy a defense system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which can intercept missiles in flight.
A U.S. defense official told CNN that plans to implement the missile defense system had been accelerated in response to the launch, and it could potentially be deployed within weeks.
Concerned about U.S. military influence so close to its borders however, China has criticized the plans to implement THAAD, summoning the South Korean ambassador following Seoul’s announcement on the system.
Increased pressure on China
Sunday’s launch will heighten international pressure on China, North Korea’s biggest foreign investor, to do more.
Wary of creating a refugee crisis should Kim’s regime collapse, China has been unwilling to implement sanctions that would really put a choke on North Korea’s economy.
“Sanctions are definitely not the aim,” an editorial published Sunday by Chinese state news agency Xinhua said. It did, however, note that Foreign Minister Wang Yi would “continue to exercise strategic composure and play a constructive role in helping seek a solution to the peninsular conundrum.”
Alison Evans, senior analyst for Asia-Pacific at IHS Country Risk, said that Pyongyang had likely calculated that by carrying out the rocket launch so soon after the January 6 nuclear test — before the international community had responded to the latter with new sanctions — it might face less severe repercussions than if the launch and test were responded to individually.
However, she said, there’s not a lot more the international community can do to sanction Pyongyang.
“There are some things that haven’t yet been touched upon, like North Korean labor exported abroad, which brings in a lot of foreign currency for the North Korean government,” she said.
“But if anything, it would be China’s implementation of existing sanctions that would tighten the screws on North Korea.”