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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russian senator criticizes North Korea rocket launch plans

RIA Novosti

13/03/2009 14:26 MOSCOW, March 13 (RIA Novosti) - North Korea's announced launch of a long-range rocket may complicate the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and hamper the six-party talks on the country's controversial nuclear program, a senior Russian senator said on Friday.

The communist state announced plans last month to launch a satellite using a three-stage rocket from the newly constructed Musudan-ri launch pad on the country's northeast coast.

Seoul and Washington believe the real purpose of a satellite launch would be to test a long-range Taepodong-2 missile, which is thought to have a range of 6,700 kilometers (4,100 miles) and could possibly reach the U.S. states of Alaska and Hawaii, as well as South Korea and Japan.

"Most importantly, we need to send a signal to our North Korean neighbors that their military space activities may complicate all discussions on security on the Korean Peninsula, complicate relations between North Korea and South Korea, and maybe affect the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue," said Mikhail Margelov, who heads the Federation Council's foreign affairs committee.

The senator said, though, it was too early to draw serious conclusions about the nature of the upcoming launch because of the lack of information, and urged Pyongyang to show more transparency on the issue.

"The international community and we, as neighbors of North Korea, need absolute clarity on these tests," he said.

Pyongyang has notified global agencies of its plans to launch a communications satellite on April 4-8, indicating that the first stage of the three-stage carrier rocket would fall into the Sea of Japan and the second stage would splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

Margelov said that Russia would closely monitor the developments around the possible launch of a long-range rocket by North Korea.

"No military, let alone military space activities by Pyongyang will go unnoticed by us," the senator said.

Pyongyang first tested a long-range missile in 1998, when it launched a Taepodong-1 over northern Japan and claimed that it carried a domestically-developed satellite.

In 2002, Pyongyang and Tokyo agreed to a moratorium on missile tests, but the secretive regime has continued research on ballistic missile technology.

In 2005 Pyongyang announced that it had nuclear weapons and in July 2006 test-launched a Taepodong-2 long-range missile and later staged an underground test of a nuclear device.

The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1718 on October 14, 2006, which forbids North Korea from conducting further nuclear tests or launches of ballistic missiles.

Some analysts believe, though, the impoverished country is not capable of developing a domestic space program, and that the planned rocket launch is simply an attempt to draw the attention of U.S. President Barack Obama's new administration to the issue of the stalled six-party talks on North Korea's controversial nuclear program.

The six-nation talks, involving North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan, China and the United States, were launched in 2003 after Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

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