SEOUL North Korea said on Friday it will launch a long-range rocket carrying a "working" satellite to mark the centenary of founder Kim Il-sung's birth next month, sparking condemnation from the United States and others that it was in breach of a U.N. resolution.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the announcement was highly provocative and called upon Pyongyang to honour its obligations including U.N. 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.
The North, which said recently 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.
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, and Japan said the ballistic launch threatened regional security.
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 the top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura.
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," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters at a regular news briefing.
In April 2009, the North conducted a similar ballistic rocket launch which resulted in a new round of toughened U.N. 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.
CELEBRATIONS, MILITARISTIC IMAGE
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 said 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 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 a militaristic image 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 southwards and debris generated from the flight will not impact neighbouring countries, it said.
(Additional reporting by Jumin Park in Seoul and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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