N. Korea extends launch window

'Technical deficiency' pushes liftoff back to anytime until Dec. 29

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

While Japan remained on high alert Monday for North Korea’s “satellite launch,” Pyongyang extended the launch window by a week to Dec. 29 because of a “technical deficiency,” the Korean Central News Agency said.

KCNA quoted an unnamed spokesman for the Korean Committee of Space Technology as saying scientists and technicians were “pushing forward the preparations for the launch of the second version of Kwangmyongsong-3, a scientific and technological satellite, to a final phase.”

“They, however, found technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module of the rocket carrying the satellite and decided to extend the satellite launch period up to Dec. 29,” the spokesman was quoted as saying.

Pyongyang previously announced the launch would take place between 7 a.m. and noon sometime between Monday and Dec. 22. It later hinted that a delay was possible.

In Tokyo, the government was on alert Monday morning because North Korea had not officially stated its intention to postpone the launch to the International Maritime Organization.

“The IMO has not lifted its warning nor are we aware that North Korea made any announcement to cancel the launch,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference in the morning. “We are prepared for contingencies and . . . we will deal with this matter with a sense of tension.”

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his key Cabinet ministers assembled before 7 a.m.

The last time North Korea fired a rocket was in April. The first launch under new leader Kim Jong Un ended up a failure after exploding about a minute after takeoff. It appears the Pyongyang government is being extra careful this time to ensure the launch succeeds.

In Seoul, the daily Chosun Ilbo reported Monday that technical problems apparently held up the liftoff and that a new third-stage rocket was delivered to the launch pad Saturday.

The South Korean government was looking at various scenarios that could be holding up the launch, from the weather to technological problems or diplomatic pressure from China, but an analysis of satellite pictures suggested the problem was in the third-stage booster, a source told Chosun Ilbo.

“There is still a strong chance that the rocket could be launched before Dec. 22,” the source added.

Noda ordered his Cabinet earlier this month to consult closely with other countries, including the U.S. and South Korea, on the launch and to gather and share information between ministries.

Japan has deployed Patriot Advanced Capability-3 surface-to-air missile launchers and three destroyers armed with the Aegis missile defense system and has orders to shoot down any part of it that threatens Japanese territory.

Fujimura said the government will continue to demand Pyongyang to abandon the launch, which is widely suspected of being ballistic missile test rather than a satellite launch, Fujimura said. “North Korea’s planned missile launch violates United Nations resolutions and the government will continue to strongly urge Pyongyang to cancel it,” he said.

Fujimura has been under fire since making a slip of the tongue last week in which he said he hoped the rocket would be fired off quickly so he would be able to campaign for Sunday’s election.

Opposition parties slammed Fujimura’s gaffe and demanded he step down.

Information from Kyodo added

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