The White House just gave North Korea another stern warning about its space launch

U.S. Warns North Korea Against Satellite Launch
U.S. Warns North Korea Against Satellite Launch

The White House said on Tuesday any satellite launch by North Korea would be viewed by the international community as another destabilizing provocation by that country.

"I feel confident in telling you that the international community would regard a step like that by the North Koreans as just another irresponsible provocation and a clear violation of their international obligations," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a news briefing.

North Korea notified UN agencies on Tuesday that it plans to launch a satellite this month, which could advance the isolated country's development of long-range missile technology.

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Russel said a launch, "using ballistic missile technology," would be an "egregious violation" of North Korea's international obligations.

"This argues even more strongly for action by the UN Security Council and the international community to impose real consequences for the destabilizing action that (North Korea) has taken and is taking," Russel said.

He said it showed the need "to raise the cost to the leaders through the imposition of tough additional sanctions and of course by ensuring the thorough and rigorous enforcement of the existing sanctions."

Russel said negotiations were "active" at the UN and that the United States and North Korea's main ally China "share the view that there needs to be consequences to North Korea for its defiance and for its threatening behaviors."

"Our diplomats are in deep discussion in New York about how to tighten sanctions, how to respond to violations," he said.

Related photos: North Korea's hydrogen bomb test:

Asked about China's cautious response to US calls for stronger and more effective sanctions on Pyongyang and Beijing's stress on the need for dialogue, Russel said:

"Yet another violation by the DPRK of the UN Security Council resolution, coming on the heels of its nuclear test, would be an unmistakable slap in the face to those who argue that you just need to show patience and dialogue with the North Koreans, but not sanctions."

Meanwhile, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation to broaden sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear program, human rights record, and cyber activities.

The committee passed the measure by unanimous voice vote and members said they expected it would be approved by the full Senate and, eventually, signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Space launch or ballistic missile test?

The US has seen increased activity around a North Korea site suggesting movement of components and propellant to be able to conduct a space launch in the near future, a US official told Reuters in late January.

"Our concern though is that they do a space-launch but really it's the same technology to develop ICBMs," the official said, referring to inter-continental ballistic missiles.

The official added such a launch could happen within a couple of weeks.

Late last month, Japan's Kyodo news agency cited an unnamed Japanese official saying thatNorth Korea may be preparing to launch a long-range missile as soon as in a week.

The official cited signs of possible preparations for a missile launch based on analysis of satellite imagery of the North's Tongchang-ri missile-test site on its west coast.

The report came as UN Security Council members were discussing fresh sanctions against North Korea after it conducted its fourth nuclear test on January 6.

North Korea is already under sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea last conducted a long-range rocket launch in late 2012, successfully putting an object into orbit in what experts believed to be part of its effort to build an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The North is also seen to be working to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to mount on a missile, but many experts say it is some time away from perfecting the technology.

The Kyodo report gave no other details about the satellite-imagery analyses.

US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, commander of US Pacific Command, said on Wednesday before the Kyodo report was published that North Korea's actions underscored the importance of strengthening an alliance among Japan, South Korea, and the US.

He said he supported reviewing the possibility of converting a US Aegis missile-defense test site in Hawaii into a combat-ready facility to bolster US defenses against ballistic-missile attacks, an initiative first reported by Reuters last week.

Harris also told reporters after his speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that it made sense to put a mobile missile-defense system known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea.

The THAAD system's mobility and strategic battery-unit placement is designed to counter threats around the globe. n April 2013, the Pentagon deployed a THAAD battery to Guam in order to deter North Korean provocations and further defend the Pacific region.

The THAAD missile does not carry a warhead, instead designed to use pure kinetic energy to deliver "hit-to-kill" lethality to ballistic missiles inside or outside of the atmosphere.

That deployment decision must be made jointly by the US and South Korea, Harris said.

North Korea said on January 6 that it had exploded a hydrogen bomb, although the US, other governments, and experts voiced skepticism that it had made such a technological advance.

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