‘North Korea has right to use of space’

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From AFP

China said on Tuesday that North Korea had the right to peaceful use of space, as it refused to condemn its ally’s weekend rocket launch.

In its clearest comments yet since the blast off, China’s foreign ministry said the United Nations should not overreact and that the most pressing concern was to restart stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

“We hope relevant parties can maintain restraint and stay calm to safeguard overall peace and stability,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.

“This issue also involves a country’s right to peaceful use of space. We believe the (UN) Security Council should respond in a prudent way.”

North Korea maintains Sunday’s launch put a satellite into orbit, but the United States and its allies say nothing made it into space and the real purpose was to test the delivery vehicle, a long-range Taepodong-2 missile.

Washington and Tokyo are pushing for the Security Council to react strongly to the launch, saying it violated United Nations (UN) resolutions passed after Pyongyang’s 2006 nuclear and missile tests, but China and Russia are aiming for a more muted response.

The council adjourned Sunday after a three-hour post-launch emergency meeting with no agreement on a response.

When asked if China condemned the launch, Jiang declined to say anything critical of North Korea, instead commenting on the importance of the six-nation talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear programmes.

“We call on relevant parties to proceed from the standpoint of the overall interest to maintain a cool-headed calm so as to jointly safeguard the peace and stability of the region and promote the six-party talks,” she said.

China is the host of the six-nation talks, which have been stalled since December last year after North Korea refused to agree on ways to verify its claims of nuclear disarmament.

The talks, which also involve the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia, began in 2003. A landmark was reached in 2007 when Pyongyang agreed to scrap its nuclear programme in exchange for energy aid.

The United States has said Sunday’s launch was provocative but that it also remains focused on resuming the negotiations.

North Korea’s ruling communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun meanwhile quoted leader Kim Jong-Il expressing regret that money spent on the exercise could not have been used to help his people, many of whom are starving.

“While preparing for this proud victory, the General (Kim) felt regret that more resources could not be used for the people’s livelihood but said the people would understand him,” the newspaper said.

“Our hearts are rent by the General’s remarks.”

Analysts said available data from Sunday’s launch indicated that North Korea had failed in its third attempt since 1998 to build an accurate long-range missile.

Joseph Bermudez of Jane’s Information Group termed it a step back from the 1998 launch of a Taepodong-1.

The only previous test of a Taepodong-2, in 2006, failed 40 seconds after lift-off.
 
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