North Korea Announces Plans To Launch Satellite

Officials in North Korea say they are getting ready to launch a satellite as part of a peaceful space program. But analysts fear that it will actually be a test of a long-range ballistic missile. U.S. and South Korea officials have warned against the test.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

North Korea says it's preparing to launch a satellite as part of a peaceful space program. But analysts fear it will actually be a test launch of a long-range ballistic missile. The U.S. and South Korea have both warned against the test.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn is following the story from Beijing. Good morning, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What, exactly, are the North Koreans planning to do?

KUHN: Well, their space administration said today that they're planning to launch an experimental communication satellite, which purports to be an updated version of one they claim to have launched in 1998.

But the U.S. Space Command checked into that launch in 1998, and they couldn't find the satellite, which leads many people to believe that either the satellite launch was a failure, or it was a hoax and a cover-up for an ICBM or intercontinental ballistic missile test.

MONTAGNE: So, a lot of questions out there. What would the political consequences possibly be if, indeed North Korea does - goes ahead with this launch?

KUHN: Well, both the U.S. and South Korea have threatened sanctions if it goes ahead. And that's what happened the last time they had a missile test, in 2006. And it's very unlikely that North Korea could achieve much in terms of diplomacy, either forcing Seoul or Washington to the negotiating table.

On the other hand, it would be hard for sanctions to isolate Pyongyang any more than it already is. And it would also be unlikely that it would give them much added bargaining power in the nuclear-disarmament talks that are ongoing, and that the U.S. and South Korea and the other parties want very much to continue.

MONTAGNE: Is it possible that North Korea is testing the new Obama administration here?

KUHN: Absolutely. It still wants very much to negotiate directly with them. But I think we should also mention that they are in the market for a satellite. They do want to be able to say they're a modern economy with access to advanced technology.

MONTAGNE: Anthony, thanks very much. NPR's Anthony Kuhn, speaking to us from Beijing.

KUHN: Thanks, Renee.

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