December 29, 2019

North Korea could be planning Christmas gift of a space rocket launch
North Korea appears to be laying the groundwork for the launch of a rocket to put a satellite into orbit, with state media in recent days reporting on other nations’ space projects and reiterating Pyongyang’s right to the peaceful development of outer space.  The South Korean government has confirmed that it is monitoring the North’s media coverage and activities at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station out of concern that the launch of a rocket carrying a satellite will be the “Christmas gift” that Kim Jong-un’s regime promised in early December.  Under the terms of United Nations Security Council resolutions, North Korea is not permitted to use rockets to put a satellite into orbit on the grounds that a rocket launch is virtually identical to the test firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile.  North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a ruling party meeting Credit: KCNA North Korea has defied international pressure and attempted to put satellites into orbit on five occasions since 1998, with the two most recent launches - in December 2012 and February 2016 - successful.  The Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Friday carried a report on the launch of a satellite by Russia earlier in the week. A few days previously, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of North Korea devoted a story to the efforts of a number of countries to explore and exploit outer space.  A spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry told the Yonhap news agency that it is “closely watching related reports”. On Sunday, Kim presided over the second day of a meeting in Pyongyang of the Workers’ Party called to discuss “important policy issues for new victory in our revolution”, state media reported.  The details of the regime’s leadership have not been reported, although the Korean Central News Agency have confirmed that the talks are focusing on the “building of the state and national defence” and reiterated the “development of the revolution with a transparent, anti-imperialist, independent stance and firm will”.  The meeting of party leaders comes shortly after Kim summoned his military leaders and ordered them to step up the nation’s military capabilities, including its nuclear deterrent.   North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the test-fire of two short-range ballistic missiles Credit: KCNA Conclaves of the North’s political and military commanders have increased concerns that Kim is going to carry out some form of provocative move designed to encourage US President Donald Trump to relax sanctions imposed by the international community in an attempt to force Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear arsenal.  Kim set a deadline of the end of the year for Washington to drop its “hostile policy” towards Pyongyang and warned the US to prepare for a “Christmas gift”.  US and South Korean troops have been at a heightened state of alert in recent days and a number of surveillance aircraft are patrolling close to North Korean airspace in anticipation of a missile launch.  Pyongyang has conducted two tests of rocket engines at the Sohae launch facility in December and satellite imagery has confirmed that more work us under way at the site. The placement of a shelter over part of the site makes it impossible to determine the precise nature of that work.
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