No launch from N. Korea; no backing down, either

By Jean H. Lee

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 2:15 p.m. MDT

In this April 11, 2012 image made from KRT video, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un applauds as he attends a conference of the ruling Worker's Party in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim has been named to fill two key party posts previously held by his late father Kim Jong Il. State media says Kim Jong Un is now chairman of the ruling party's Central Military Commission and a standing member of the Political Bureau.

KRT via AP video) NORTH KOREA OUT, TV OUT, Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea's first chance at a rocket launch passed Thursday with no word of a liftoff, but also with no sign that Pyongyang intends to abandon what the U.S. and its allies consider an attempt to test long-range missile technology.

The launch window for what North Korea says is an observation satellite opened during a week aimed at celebrating Sunday's centennial of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country's late founder. Events also include high-level meetings where new leader Kim Jong Un has received at least three new titles to further cement his rule.

North Korea has said it will launch the rocket between Thursday and Monday, between 7 a.m. and noon local time. Space officials showed foreign journalists the launch control center Wednesday and said fueling was under way, but they did not comment further on the timing.

Poor weather made a Thursday launch unlikely, Philippine disaster management agency chief Benito Ramos said, citing an assessment he received from the Philippine military, which is being briefed by U.S. and Japan counterparts. Wind in particular can scuttle rocket launches.

The United States, Japan, Britain, Russia and others say the launch would be a provocation and would violate U.N. Security Council resolutions banning North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programs. Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is similar to the type of rocket that could be used to fire a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead to strike the U.S. or other targets.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking for the Group of Eight nations after their foreign ministers met in Washington, said all the members of the bloc agreed to be prepared to take further action against North Korea in the Security Council if the launch goes ahead.

"Pyongyang has a clear choice: It can pursue peace and reap the benefits of closer ties with the international community, including the United States; or it can continue to face pressure and isolation," Clinton said.

At the United Nations in New York, G-8 member Russia echoed that the launch would violate Security Council resolutions. But North Korea's other main ally, China — which is not part of the G-8 — was more circumspect.

"We are very concerned about that issue," China's U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong said, adding that Beijing wanted to "diffuse tension, not inflame" it.

Japan's parliament adopted a resolution Thursday condemning the scheduled rocket launch.

"A launch is a serious act of provocation that would affect peace and stability in the region that includes our country," Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said, reading the resolution adopted unanimously at the lower house. "We strongly urge North Korea to use self-restraint and not to carry out a launch."

South Korea's Defense Ministry said it was prepared to shoot down any rocket that strays into its territory.

North Korea denies that the launch is anything but a peaceful civilian bid to send a satellite into space. The Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite is designed to send back images and data that will be used for weather forecasts and agricultural surveys.

Pyongyang made two previous attempts to launch a satellite, in 1998 and 2009, but the U.S. and other outside observers say there is no evidence that either reached orbit. This week's planned launch came with more fanfare, with Pyongyang inviting a possibly unprecedented crowd of foreign journalists and other guests.

North Korea also is elevating Kim Jong Un, who has been firmly in power since his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December.

He was named first secretary of the ruling Workers' Party at a conference Wednesday, a new top title that allowed the party to grant Kim Jong Il the posthumous title of "eternal general secretary."

Though he already is considered supreme commander of the armed forces, Kim is expected to gain other new titles formalizing his position as "supreme leader."

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