North Korea rocket launch plan sparks US threat

SEOUL - North Korea announced Friday it would launch a rocket carrying a satellite next month, sparking widespread condemnation and US threats that it could put much-needed food aid in jeopardy.

The United States, Japan and South Korea said the plan, announced just 16 days after Pyongyang agreed to suspend long-range missile tests in return for the US food aid, would breach a UN ban imposed after previous launches.

Blast-off will be between April 12 and 16 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-Sung, the communist state's official news agency and state television said.

The US State Department called the proposed launch "highly provocative" and a threat to regional security.

And it voiced doubt over whether it could move ahead with providing food aid to North Korea if Pyongyang followed through with its threat.

"Were we to have a launch, it would create obviously tensions and that would make the implementation of any kind of nutritional agreement quite difficult," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Nuland said that US diplomats told their North Korean counterparts prior to the February 29 agreement that a missile launch would be a "deal breaker."

The surprise deal, under which Pyongyang also promised to freeze its uranium enrichment plant, had raised hopes of eased tensions under the new regime headed by Kim Jong-Un, Kim Il-Sung's grandson, who took over the leadership after his own father Kim Jong-Il died on December 17.

But one analyst said Friday's announcement effectively killed off the agreement, under which the US was to give the hungry and impoverished nation 240,000 tonnes of food over a year.

The last long-range rocket launch on April 5, 2009, also purportedly to put a satellite into orbit, brought UN Security Council condemnation and tightened sanctions.

Pyongyang quit six-party nuclear disarmament talks in protest at the censure and conducted its second atomic weapons test the following month.

The North insists its satellite launches are for peaceful scientific purposes while the US and other nations call them disguised missile tests.

UN Security Council Resolution 1874, passed after the North's second nuclear test, demands that it "not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology".

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