Pending launch raises tension level in Tokyo

by Masami Ito and Jun Hongo

North Korea’s imminent launch of what it claims is a rocket carrying a satellite raised the government’s tension levels a notch Friday as Cabinet members warned the hermit state to steer clear of provocative actions.

“Whether it says it is a communications satellite or what, it is clearly a violation of resolution 1718 of the United Nation Security Council and it is definitely not something that Japan can just dismiss,” Prime Minister Taro Aso told reporters.

The U.N. resolution, adopted in 2006 after Pyongyang carried out missile tests and a nuclear test, stipulates that North Korea abandon all missile development activities. Tokyo claims the restriction includes the launching of satellite-carrying rockets, which experts say are technically identical to ballistic missiles.

North Korea filed its plan to launch a satellite between April 4 and 8 with the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization. The organizations notified Tokyo late Thursday, and the Foreign Ministry quickly responded by setting up a special liaison office headed by the director of the foreign policy bureau.

“Japan will firmly protest the launch through the U.N. and strongly demand the launch be called off,” Aso said.

Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone told reporters Friday the government is “unaware of Pyongyang’s objectives” but will concentrate on preventing the act. Japan, as well as the United States and the United Kingdom, will view the launch of a satellite as a violation of the U.N. resolution, he said.

“If the act could endanger our countries’ safety, we will be taking care of the issue properly,” Nakasone said.

According to Article 82 of the Self-Defense Forces Law, the defense minister, with permission from the prime minister, can give orders to intercept ballistic missiles or other flying objects besides aircraft that endanger Japanese soil.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said the law does not approve interception of objects that fly over the country, but suggested prior arrangements may be necessary for the prime minister to give permission to intercept the rocket.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, who has previously said Japan is ready to shoot down objects from North Korea that could land in Japan, assured reporters Friday that the government is preparing for any possibility and will do what it needs to protect the public.


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