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North Korea refuses to halt launch plan despite Obama's warnings

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:05 PM EDT, Wed March 28, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama has said that a satellite launch would deepen North Korea's isolation
  • Pyongyang says it won't give up the launch, insisting it's for 'peaceful purposes'
  • The move is widely seen as a long-range missile test in disguise
  • The statements come against the backdrop of a nuclear security summit in Seoul

(CNN) -- North Korea said Tuesday that it would not abandon its plan to carry out a satellite launch next month despite recent warnings from President Barack Obama over the move.

The North "will not give up the satellite launch for peaceful purposes, which is a legitimate right of a sovereign state and requirement essential for economic development," Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency reported, citing the country's foreign ministry.

During his visit to South Korea this week, Obama has said that if North Korea moves forward with the launch -- which Washington and Seoul say would breach U.N. Security Council resolutions through the use of a long-range missile -- it will further deepen its isolation, damage relations with its neighbors and face additional sanctions that have already strangled the country.

The North Korean report Tuesday said that Obama's stance "reflects his wrong conception" of the situation.

"The U.S. says that it has no hostility" toward North Korea, the news agency cited the ministry as saying. "But it has not yet departed from the inveterate conception of confrontation. That is why it regards the launch of a satellite for peaceful purposes as a launch of long-range missile."

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Pyongyang also appears to be acting on its expressed determination to press ahead with the launch. The regime moved a long-range rocket it plans to test fire to a launch pad Monday, a South Korean Defense Ministry official said.

A U.S. official said the United States had also seen signs the North Koreans are preparing to launch the rocket.

The defiant words and deeds from Pyongyang coincide with a two-day nuclear summit in Seoul that has brought together leaders from the United States, Russia, China and dozens of other nations to discuss how to deal with nuclear terrorism and how to secure the world's nuclear material.

Overshadowing the summit's message of international cooperation was North Korea's initial announcement earlier this month that it plans to carry out the rocket-powered satellite launch in mid-April.

"Here in Korea, I want to speak directly to the leadership in Pyongyang. The United States has no hostile intent toward your country," Obama said during a speech Monday in front of students at Seoul's Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

"But by now it should be clear, your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek. They have undermined it."

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Monday his country would "thoroughly retaliate against North Korea" if provoked.

If the rocket is launched, South Korea is prepared to "track its trajectory," said the Defense Ministry official, who did not want to be named.

"There are concerns that parts of the rocket may fall within South Korean territory," he said. "If that were to happen it would threaten lives and cause damage to the economy. To guard against that, they (the military) will be tracking the orbit."

Japan has said it is preparing missile defense systems ahead of the launch.

The rocket was moved to a launch pad in the northeastern portion of Dongchang-ri, a village in northwest North Korea, the South Korean official said.

Pyongyang has invited international space experts and journalists to witness the launch, which is timed to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, North Korea's founder and ruler between 1945 and 1994.

Kim Jong Un, the grandson of Kim Il Sung, became the new head of the secretive regime in December, following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. The leadership transition has added to uncertainties about Pyongyang's intentions.

Using ballistic missile technology is in violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 and against a deal North Korea struck with the United States earlier this month to suspend nuclear and missile tests in return for food aid.

The North Korean foreign ministry statement Tuesday said that during the talks on the deal, Pyongyang had "consistently maintained that a moratorium on long-range missile launch does not include satellite launch for the peaceful purposes."

The planned launch was front and center in a meeting Monday between Obama and Hu Jintao, the president of China, a neighbor and ally of North Korea.

"The two leaders agreed to coordinate closely to this potential provocation, and registering our serious concerns," Ben Rhodes, one of Obama's deputy national security advisers, said after the meeting.

The two also agreed there is a broad view in the international community that a satellite launch would be destabilizing, he said.

Obama and Hu also discussed North Korea's new leadership, "this being a sensitive time on the Korean peninsula, and this being a new leader who is going to take some lessons from what works and what doesn't," Rhodes said.

Beyond the flurry of statements about the satellite launch, meetings and speeches continued Tuesday at the nuclear security summit.

Obama and Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, both underlined the threat of nuclear terrorism and the need for international cooperation to prevent it.

CNN's Jethro Mullen, Paula Hancocks, Tim Schwartz, Becky Brittain, and Pam Benson contributed to this report.

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