Bilaterial talks with Pyongyang postponed over launch plans

Kyodo

In response to North Korea’s plans to launch an “Earth observation satellite” this month, Japan has decided to postpone two days of bilateral talks that were slated with the Stalinist state this week in Beijing.

“I have determined it will be difficult to hold the meeting from a comprehensive standpoint, and I informed the other party of my postponement decision” through a diplomatic channel, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told reporters Saturday.

Noda made the announcement after consulting with key ministers on the development, including Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura.

“It will be quite regrettable if the launch is carried out,” he said. “The international community, including Japan, will have to respond to it in a decisive manner.”

The two countries were scheduled to hold a second round of talks involving senior officials on Wednesday and Thursday to deepen discussions on issues they took up at the first meeting in Ulan Bator last month.

The North said the launch would happen between Dec. 10 and 22. It would be Pyongyang’s second attempt to launch a long-range rocket this year following an unsuccessful one in April in which a three-stage rocket also supposedly carrying an observation satellite broke up shortly after liftoff, posing a major embarrassment to the North.

Defense Minister Morimoto kicked off the usual prelaunch hype by ordering the Self-Defense Forces to prepare to destroy the rocket if necessary, although the flight plan hasn’t been announced yet.

Tokyo refrained from sanctioning Pyongyang for the April launch, mostly because there were few sanctions left to impose. But it was also concerned about inducing more acts of provocation from the North, which was suspected of using the satellite launch to disguise a ballistic missile test. Officials said they would consider additional sanctions this time around.

The Foreign Ministry thinks that North Korea aims to boost its national prestige by timing the launch to coincide with elections in both Japan and South Korea.