South Korean authorities on Friday moved to analyze the debris of a North Korean long-range rocket, launched earlier this week in defiance of repeated international warnings.
“The debris will be important material that can verify North Korean missile capability,” Kim Min-seok, a spokesperson at the South’s Defense Ministry said.
North Korea’s Unha-3 rocket blasted off from a launch site Wednesday and put a satellite into orbit. Its first-stage booster broke into four pieces and dropped into the Yellow Sea in the South’s territory.
A South Korean Navy rescue ship hauled the sunken debris aboard at 00:26 a.m. Friday.
The recovered object is 7.6 meters long, has a diameter of 2.4 meters and weighs 3.2 tons, the Defense Ministry said. It is inscribed with the word “Unha.”
A photo of a North Korean missile debris salvaged by the South Korean Navy. The object, believed to be part of the first-stage booster of the rocket, is 7.6 meters long with a diameter of 2.4 meters. (Yonhap News)
The South Korean team that will lead the analysis will likely consist of rocket and weapons experts, including those who worked on the South’s troubled Naro-1 space rocket project, or Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1.
Buoyed by the successful satellite launch, North Korea said Friday that its leader Kim Jong-un had overseen the project himself and that the country would continue to launch satellites to boost the country’s science, technology and economy.
A flurry of diplomacy is under way among members of the U.N. Security Council seeking punitive action against North Korea.
The council had condemned communist country Wednesday, tagging its action as a disguised test of an intercontinental ballistic missile and a violation of bans on nuclear activity.
South Korea and the U.S. are spearheading discussions with an aim to add new, stronger sanctions to the council’s existing blacklist. The 15-member council is expected to agree on an outline of its measures as early as next week.
The ongoing consultations will lead to a “clear and credible response to what the North Koreans have done,” said Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State.
“We are working hard with the Chinese and with our other partners to make it clear that the international community is extremely concerned about this flagrant violation of international law,” she told a regular briefing in Washington.
Among possible options are expanded sanctions targets and tighter inspections of sea cargoes shipped to and from the communist country, according to Kim Sook, Seoul’s top U.N. representative. Financial bans are unlikely but also on the agenda.
The South Korean government is also exploring separate measures targeting the North’s marine transport. The move reflects concerns that China, Pyongyang’s ally and a veto-wielding council member, may be unwilling to take tough action as it was after previous launches.
Seoul has set sights on target shipments in and out of the North, a senior presidential official told reporters late Thursday.
A revision to the South’s Public Order in Open Ports Act mandates entry clearance for all container lines that have come into any North Korean port over the last 180 days, up from the previous 60 days.
Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi had a phone conversation late Thursday, during which they “shared concerns” and agreed to continue consultations, the ministry said.
“We are considering sanctions in marine transport. Now that we have already set the legal grounds, we will start talks with other countries over additional sanctions after watching the U.N. Security Council’s decision,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Still, council members appear to have difficulty reaching a breakthrough due to China’s resistance to sanctions against its unruly ally, which has long been criticized as a perennial hurdle for effective enforcement of sanctions.
During the closed-door meeting on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice and Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong reportedly faced off over the North’s launch and the council’s response.
There were growing calls around Washington for a more hardline approach to the North. In stark contrast, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the launch “highlighted the significance and urgency of resuming the six-party talks.”
By Park Hyong-ki & Shin Hyon-hee