The Philippine military on Friday said it had “intensified” its monitoring of North Korea’s plan to launch a long-range rocket next month, as Japan readied its missile defense systems to shoot down the rocket if it threatens Japanese territory.
The move by North Korea’s new leadership has set off alarm bells across the region. The Philippines is calling for help from the United States to monitor the rocket, part of which is expected to splash down just 190 kilometers east of northern Philippines.
A special adviser to US President Barack Obama said North Korea would face a “strong response” if it launched its new rocket despite international calls to desist.
“If they go ahead anyway, we will want to work with our allies and partners for a strong response,” Gary Samore, arms control coordinator at the National Security Council, told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency in an interview.
In Singapore, visiting United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned Pyongyang’s launch of the rocket could jeopardize food aid to that impoverished country.
Help from US
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) gave no word on preparations it was taking in the event debris from the new North Korean rocket lands on Philippine territory.
“We have intensified our monitoring efforts of any significant developments. We will coordinate with our US counterparts and if necessary seek their assistance to enhance our surveillance and monitoring efforts,” AFP spokesperson Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said.
“We are still hoping that the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) will heed the warnings and appeals to stop their planned rocket launch which several nations have already voiced,” Burgos added.
The North’s planned launch sometime between April 12 and 16 will be a key topic on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Seoul starting on Monday to be attended by Obama and other world leaders, including the presidents of China and Russia. The summit will focus on nuclear terrorism.
Obama has scheduled talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and other leaders at the summit.
The nuclear-armed North has announced it will launch the rocket to put a satellite into orbit, a move that the United States and other nations see as a pretext for a long-range missile test banned by the UN.
The North’s atomic program is expected to be the subject of intense discussion at the summit.
“I have ordered officials to prepare to deploy the PAC-3 and Aegis warships,” Japan’s Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka told reporters, referring to surface-to-air missiles and destroyers carrying missiles.
“We are talking to relevant local governments about the deployment,” he said.
The surface-to-air interceptors would reportedly be deployed on Japan’s southern Okinawa island chain, but any order to shoot down the North Korean rocket would first need the approval of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Japanese officials have said the projectile may pass over Okinawa.
In a notice to the UN’s International Maritime Organization, North Korea has said the first stage of the rocket will fall in international waters between China and South Korea. The second stage is expected to splash down east of northern Philippines.
Ban, who plans to raise the rocket launch at the Seoul summit, said any launch could discourage international aid donors and worsen North Korea’s already dire humanitarian situation.
“Such an act would undermine recent positive diplomatic progress and, in its effect on international donors, would likely worsen the humanitarian situation inside the country,” he said in a speech in Singapore.
North Korea has warned that any attempts to raise the rocket launch at the nuclear summit in Seoul would be taken as “a declaration of war” and rejected South Korean demands to call off the launch.
But Ban, a South Korean, said the launch would be a “clear violation” of UN Security Council resolutions and warned that the North already has a “serious humanitarian crisis” on its hands.
The United States voiced doubt last week over whether it could provide food aid to Pyongyang if it followed through on the launch, after an apparent breakthrough deal with North Korea last month.
Washington had said it would deliver 240,000 metric tons of food aid to North Korea, which remains hampered by food shortages after a devastating famine in the 1990s.
In return, Pyongyang agreed to a partial freeze on its nuclear program, to suspend missile tests and to allow the return of UN atomic inspectors.
The Japanese defense minister, who met with US Ambassador John Roos late Thursday, said the two sides “reconfirmed to further strengthen Japan-US cooperation, especially on the North Korean issue.”
In 2009, Japan ordered similar missile-defense preparations before Pyongyang’s last long-range rocket launch, which brought UN Security Council condemnation and tightened sanctions against the isolated communist state.
The rocket, which North Korea said was also aimed at putting a satellite into orbit, passed over Japanese territory without incident or any attempt to shoot it down.
A UN Security Council resolution passed after the North staged missile and nuclear tests in 2009 bans a ballistic missile launch for any purpose.
“As secretary general of the United Nations, I express my deep concern by the announcement of the (North Korean) government (on) their intention to launch a satellite,” Ban said in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.
‘Declaration of war’
In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan again appealed to the North to scrap its rocket launch, calling it “a grave provocation.”
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak said on Wednesday that despite Pyongyang’s threats, leaders of five nations will discuss ways to press North Korea to abandon its plans to launch the rocket.
The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia have been involved since 2003 in the talks, which have been broken off repeatedly over various instances of North Korean brinksmanship.
North Korea’s state news agency said on Wednesday any attempt by Lee to raise the issue would be “a ridiculous attempt and an absolutely unpardonable criminal act.”
“Any provocative act would be considered a declaration of war against us and its consequences would serve as great obstacles to talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” it said. With reports from AFP and AP
First posted 12:35 am | Saturday, March 24th, 2012