SEOUL (Reuters) – Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said her country will soon put a spy satellite into orbit, state news agency KCNA reported on Thursday, promising Pyongyang would increase its military monitoring capabilities.
The comments by Kim, a powerful official in the ruling party, came a day after a failed attempt to launch the country’s first spy satellite, which sank into the sea.
Kim rejected Washington and other countries’ condemnation of the launch as a violation of their sovereign right to develop space.
“It is certain that (North Korea’s) military reconnaissance satellite will be properly put into space orbit in the near future and begin its mission,” Kim said in an English-language statement carried by KCNA.
Shortly after the launch vehicle failed, South Korea discovered debris strewn off its west coast and launched a salvage operation in hopes of studying the new missile.
“The part we found appears to be the second stage of the missile,” South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sob told parliament on Thursday. “We are continuing searches to find more, including the third stage and payload.
Lee added that a large and heavy object is still submerged and will require time and specialized equipment to lift.
It was not clear when the North would attempt another launch. A South Korean lawmaker said Wednesday, citing South Korea’s intelligence agency, that it could take weeks or more to resolve the problems that caused the missile’s failure.
In a rare and swift acknowledgment of the setback, the Central News Agency reported just hours after its launch that the Chollima-1 rocket, carrying a military reconnaissance satellite known as “Malligyong-1”, crashed into the sea after a second-stage engine failure.
On Thursday, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also released pictures of what it said was a new missile launching from a coastal launch pad. The white and gray missile had a bulging nose, apparently to carry a satellite or other payload.
Ankit Panda of the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the images confirmed the missile is a new design.
“The launch used the new coastal launch pad they built in Tongchang-ri, so we may see a larger space launch vehicle using the traditional crane, which has seen some work recently,” he added.
US-based monitors, including 38 North and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reported that commercial satellite imagery showed significant activity on the main platform after Wednesday’s launch.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it can be assumed from pictures of North Korean state media that the missile was launched from a new launcher.
Wednesday’s launch was widely criticized, including by South Korea, Japan and the United States.
Speaking in Tokyo, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that “North Korea’s dangerous and destabilizing nuclear and missile programs threaten peace and stability in the region.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said any launch by Pyongyang using ballistic missile technology would violate Security Council resolutions, a UN spokesperson said.
In her statement, Kim Yo Jong said criticism of the launch was “self-contradictory” because the United States and other countries had already launched “thousands of satellites”.
“The United States is a group of gangsters who claim that even if the DPRK launches a satellite … it is illegal and a threat,” she said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said Kim’s claim was based on “distorted” views that challenge the UN’s hope for regional peace.
In a separate statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Sun Jeong criticized the US-led military exercises in the region, including a multinational anti-proliferation naval exercise.
Reporting by Hyunsu Yim and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Soo Hyang Choi. Editing by Chris Reese, Grant McCall, and Jerry Doyle
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