Seoul: South Korea on Wednesday moved to suspend part of a military agreement it signed with Pyongyang in 2018 after the isolated North defied warnings from Washington and its allies and launched a spy satellite, calling it a success.
The suspension of a clause in the agreement will see South Korea stepping up military surveillance along the border.
North Korea said it placed its first spy satellite in orbit on Tuesday. Photographs published by North Korean state news agency KCNA showed what appeared to be leader Kim Jong Un watching the fiery launch of a rocket from a base.
Kim was later briefed on the satellite’s initial operations at the control centre of the space agency in Pyongyang and viewed images taken above Guam of key US military installations, including the Andersen Air Force Base, KCNA said.
Kim stressed the need to launch more reconnaissance satellites on different orbits to give his armed forces “abundant valuable real-time information about the enemy and further promote their responsive posture”, it said.
The satellite would begin its formal reconnaissance mission on Dec. 1, after adjustments, KCNA said.
South Korea and Japan, which first reported the launch, could not immediately verify whether a satellite was in orbit.
The Pentagon said the US military was still assessing whether the launch was a success.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, in Britain for a state visit, approved the decision to suspend part of the inter-Korean agreement. Yoon earlier led a National Security Council meeting with ministers and the intelligence chief by video link.
The pact, known as the Comprehensive Military Agreement and aimed at de-escalating tensions between the rivals, was signed at a 2018 summit between former South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un.
Critics have said it weakened Seoul’s ability to monitor North Korea’s actions around the border, while Pyongyang has flagrantly violated the agreement.
South Korea said it was suspending a clause in the agreement and resuming aerial surveillance near the border on Wednesday.
Show of force
On Wednesday, the US nuclear-powered submarine USS Santa Fe docked at a South Korean port, a day after the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier arrived in a show of force against North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
Visiting the carrier, South Korea’s Defence Minister Shin Won-sik said joint maritime drills with the United States and Japan were planned to show their “strong will” to respond to any provocation by the North, his office said.
US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson called the satellite launch “a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged North Korea to fully comply with UN resolutions, which bar its use of technology applicable to ballistic missile programmes, a spokesperson said.
The foreign ministry of China, Pyongyang’s closest ally, called on all parties to ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
KCNA said the Malligyong-1 satellite was launched on a Chollima-1 rocket from the Sohae satellite launch facility at 10:42 pm on Tuesday and entered orbit at 10:54 pm.
North Korea had notified Japan it planned to launch a satellite between Wednesday and Dec. 1, after two failed attempts to launch what it called spy satellites this year.
South Korea’s military said it believed the latest rocket carried a reconnaissance satellite. Aegis-system equipped destroyers from South Korea, Japan and the United States were in position to track the launch vehicle and share information.
Tuesday’s launch is the first since Kim Jong Un met Vladimir Putin at Russia’s modern space facility in September, where the Russian president promised to help Pyongyang build satellites.
South Korean officials have said the latest launch most likely involved technical assistance from Moscow under a growing partnership that has seen North Korea send millions of artillery shells to Russia.
Some missile experts, however, said it was too soon for Russian technical assistance to have been fully incorporated into the satellite or the rocket and that Moscow would not have shared highly sensitive and proprietary technology.
“This consultation may not have been an in-depth involvement in the design, but likely targeted specific challenging aspects within North Korea’s planned design,” said Hong Min, an expert on the North’s weapons at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
Russia and North Korea have denied conducting arms deals, but are publicly promising deeper cooperation.
The launch came just over a week before South Korea plans to send its first spy satellite into space on a rocket operated by the U.S. company Space X.