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North Korea has notified two United Nations agencies — the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization — of its plan to launch a communications satellite between April 4 and 8. The first stage of the rocket is expected to fall in the Sea of Japan only about 120 km from the western coast of the Tohoku region and the second stage in the middle of the Pacific Ocean between Japan and Hawaii.

North Korea has the right to launch a satellite for peaceful use of space. But in view of its nuclear development program, the October 2006 explosion of a nuclear device and its missile development, the same technology it is using to launch a satellite could be used to launch a nuclear-tipped long-range ballistic missile. Therefore, the satellite launch would pose a threat to Japan and other nations. It would raise the tension in East Asia and could trigger an arms race there.

In August 1998, North Korea launched a Taepodong-1 missile, which flew over Japan and fell into the Pacific. In July 2006, it launched a Taepodong-2 missile, which blew up soon after the launch, and six other missiles. Following the North’s nuclear explosion, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution that demanded that North Korea carry out no more nuclear explosions or missile tests.

For the 1998 and 2006 missile tests, North Korea did not give advance notices to any of the two U.N. agencies. Its notification this time that it would launch a satellite is apparently designed to do an end run around the UNSC resolution. But Japan, the U.S. and South Korea take the position that even a satellite launch violates the resolution.

North Korea apparently views the satellite launch as a means of strengthening its negotiating position in the six-party talks over the North’s nuclear weapons program and in bilateral talks with the U.S. To counter the North’s move, it is imperative for Japan, the U.S. and South Korea to gain the cooperation of China and Russia to dissuade the North from proceeding with the satellite launch, and to take united action in case Pyongyang goes ahead with it.

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