Third time lucky? North Korea announces the success of the launch of its spy satellite

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea moved Wednesday to suspend parts of a 2018 military agreement with North Korea after Pyongyang defied warnings from the United States and its allies with what it said was the successful launch of its first spy satellite.

North Korea launched the Malligyong-1 satellite on a Chollima-1 rocket from the Sohae facility on its west coast at 10:42 p.m. Tuesday (8:42 a.m. ET), according to North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency. The missile flew normally along a predetermined flight path, and the satellite entered its orbit at 10:54 p.m., KCNA said, citing North Korea’s space agency.

Photos published by state media appear to show North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervising the launch, which was reported earlier by South Korea and Japan.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Wednesday that a North Korean satellite appears to have entered orbit.

“It is not clear whether it actually works,” she said in a text summary, adding that it would take some time to verify.

North Korea had notified Japan that it would launch the satellite, its third attempt this year after two previous failures, between Wednesday and December 1.

Pyongyang has said it has a “sovereign right” to develop spy satellites and other technology to defend itself against what it sees as military aggression by the United States and its allies, and pledged Wednesday to launch more satellites in the near future.

The United States, South Korea and Japan strongly condemned North Korea’s latest launch, which used ballistic missile technology in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said the decision raises tensions and “risks destabilizing the security situation in the region and beyond.”

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A spokesman for President Yeon Suk-yul, who is on a state visit to Britain, said South Korea responded to the launch by suspending parts of the 2018 agreement aimed at easing inter-Korean tensions.

The agreement, known as the Comprehensive Military Agreement, was signed in Pyongyang on September 19, 2018, by Kim and Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president at the time. This followed a flurry of diplomatic activity that year supported by Moon, whose left-leaning administration favored reconciliation with North Korea, leading to improved relations and raising hopes that North Korea was working to denuclearize.

The agreement suspended live fire training in some areas, imposed no-fly zones and reduced surveillance, among other measures. But it has been criticized as hindering South Korea’s ability to monitor North Korean activities near the border, especially since North Korea has stepped up weapons testing in recent years.

Prime Minister Han Dak-soo said at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that South Korea will restore reconnaissance and surveillance activities around the military demarcation line separating the north and south, known as the demilitarized zone.

“North Korea clearly shows that it does not intend to abide by the military agreement concluded on September 19, which aims to reduce military tension on the Korean Peninsula and build confidence,” he said.

Restoring reconnaissance and surveillance activities would significantly strengthen South Korea’s military response posture and ability to identify threatened targets, Han added, calling it a “vital measure for our national security.”

South Korea plans to launch its spy satellite on November 30, as the two countries race to develop their military capabilities in space.

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South Korea’s previous threats to suspend the agreement did not deter North Korea from launching it on Tuesday, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul.

But the suspension allows its conservative chairman, Yoon, “to move away from confidence-building measures taken by the previous administration that disproportionately benefited the Kim regime and which Pyongyang has violated multiple times,” Easley said in an email.

He added that North Korea would likely use South Korea’s enhanced surveillance “as a pretext for further military provocations.”

Tuesday’s launch was North Korea’s first since Kim traveled to Russia in September to attend a summit on spaceports with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which Putin suggested Moscow could help Pyongyang with its satellite technology.

It was not clear whether North Korea’s launch would require technical assistance from Russia, which would violate international sanctions that Moscow has supported in the past.

The United States, South Korea and Japan are working to expand security relations in the face of North Korean threats, with President Joe Biden hosting Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in the first independent trilateral summit between the three countries in August. They also held a short trilateral meeting last week on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference in San Francisco.

During a visit to Seoul this month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his South Korean and Japanese counterparts agreed to exchange real-time data on North Korean missile launches starting in December, the South Korean Defense Ministry said.

The US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson arrived Tuesday in Busan, South Korea, for a scheduled port visit. The United States was deploying a number of strategic military assets on the Korean Peninsula in a show of “extended deterrence” against North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

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Stella Kim reported from Seoul, South Korea, Arata Yamamoto from Tokyo and Jennifer Jett from Hong Kong.

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