PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Korea announced today it plans to launch a long-range rocket mounted with a satellite next month, a surprise move that comes weeks after it agreed to nuclear concessions including a moratorium on long-range missile tests.
The launch is to take place exactly three years after a similar launch in April 2009 drew widespread condemnation from the U.S., South Korea and others as a cover for testing North Korea’s long-range missile technology.
Liftoff will take place between April 12 and 16 from a launch pad in North Phyongan province, a spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology said in a statement carried by state media.
The launch plan comes as North Korea prepares to celebrate the April 15 centenary of the birth of its founder, Kim Il Sung. Kim’s grandson, Kim Jong Un, has led the nation of 24 million since his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December.
The announcement comes after North Korea agreed last month to suspend uranium enrichment, place a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, and allow back U.N. weapons inspectors in exchange for much-needed food aid. Uranium enrichment is one way to make atomic bombs. In the past North Korea has also weaponized plutonium for nuclear devices.
North Korea called the April 2009 launch a test of its satellite technology, but it was widely viewed in the West as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions prohibiting North Korea from engaging in nuclear and ballistic missile activity.