North Korea has announced it will launch a long-range rocket carrying a "working" satellite to mark the centenary of founder Kim Il-sung's birth next month.
The move on Friday sparked condemnation from the United States and others who claim North Korea's ambition was in violation of a United Nations resolution.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said the announcement was highly provocative and urged Pyongyang to honour its obligations including UN Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile launches.
"Such a missile launch would pose a threat to regional security and would also be inconsistent with North Korea's
recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches," she said in a statement.
North Korean authorities, who have said previously it would suspend long-range missile testing as part of talks with the United States, pledged that next month's launch would not impact neighbouring countries.
"We urge North Korea to exercise restraint and refrain from the launch."
- Osamu Fujimura, Chief cabinet secretary in the Japanese government
Experts said the launch was clearly another long-range missile test, and could be seen as an act of brinkmanship to pressure Washington into more talks in return for aid.
South Korea, which is still technically at war with the North after signing only an armistice to end the 1950-53 Korean War, said the ballistic launch threatened regional security.
The Japanese government echoed South Korea's sentiments.
Any launch by North Korea, whether for a satellite or not, that uses ballistic missile technology violates Security Council
resolutions, the Japanese government said.
"We urge North Korea to exercise restraint and refrain from the launch," said Osamu Fujimura, the top government spokesman and chief cabinet secretary .
China, the reclusive state's only main ally, was more restrained in its response, but stressed on maintaining peace on
the divided peninsula.
"Protecting the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and North East Asia suits the joint interests of all parties and
is the consistent expectation of the international community. This requires that all relevant parties take a constructive
role," Liu Weiminm, China's foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters at a regular news briefing.
In April 2009, the North conducted a similar ballistic rocket launch which culminated in a new round of toughened UN
sanctions, squeezing the secretive state's already troubled economy and deepening its isolation.
That launch, dismissed as a failure after the first stage fell into the Sea of Japan without orbiting a satellite, provoked outrage in Tokyo which had threatened to shoot down any debris or rocket that threatened its territory.
Another test failed in similar circumstances in 1998.
Washington says the North's long-range ballistic missile programme is moving ahead quickly and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last year that the American mainland could come under threat within five years.
"The DPRK is to launch a working satellite, Kwangmyongsong-3, manufactured by itself with indigenous technology to mark the 100th birth anniversary of President Kim Il-sung," the North's official KCNA said, quoting a spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology.
The launch will take place between April 12-16, KCNA said. It is scheduled to occur at around the same time its foes in the South hold a parliamentary election, and just over three weeks after a global nuclear security summit in Seoul.
'Strong and prosperous'
"For the outside world this is the same as a long-range missile test "
- Park Young-Ho, Korea Institute for National Unification
Pyongyang has been planning massive celebrations for years to mark Kim Il-sung's birthday on April 15, and has boasted the occasion would also mark its emergence on the international stage as a "strong and prosperous" nation.
Analysts contend that the launch was designed to boost the country's new leadership and to pressure Washington into making concessions.
"For the outside world this is the same as a long-range missile test," said Park Young-ho of the Korea Institute for
National Unification, a government affiliated think-tank.
"This can [be] interpreted as a means of applying pressure on the Americans in negotiations, and is a celebration of the founder's birth as well as an opportunity for the new leadership to celebrate the beginning of a new era," Park said in Seoul.
The state's new young leader Kim Jong-un, who became the third member of the Kim family to lead the state after his
father Kim Jong-il's death in December, has presented an image of military might to his countrymen since taking power.
He has visited several military sites and been seen mixing with top brass in what analysts say is a move designed to win
the all-powerful army's backing for the succession process.
KCNA said the launch would be conducted from a base near its border with China, indicating it would take place at a newly constructed missile testing site believed to be larger and more advanced than the site used to launch previous rockets.
The launch will be made southward and debris generated from the flight will not impact neighbouring countries, it said.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|