SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea told a U.N. agency that it will fire a communications satellite into space next month — a launch the U.S. suspects will test missile technology in violation of international sanctions.
International Maritime Organization spokesman Lee Adamson said Thursday that the North's maritime administration informed the body of the schedule the day before in writing.
The North's unprecedented notification appears to be aimed at showing it has fulfilled its obligations regarding the launch, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said.
Adamson said the London-based IMO, which is a specialized U.N. agency, would be issuing a safety of navigation circular later after confirming the launch coordinates and times provided by the North.
The South Korean government earlier said that the North had informed the body of a plan to launch a satellite and that the direction would be toward the east.
In 1998, North Korea faced international condemnation because it did not inform relevant international organizations of a missile it launched over Japan into the Pacific Ocean. It claimed at the time that it had launched a satellite into orbit.
South Korea, Japan and the United States believe the planned launch will test missile technology in violation of a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution banning North Korea from ballistic missile activity, and have urged the North not to go forward.
"There is no doubt that this problem will destabilize peace and stability in the region," Japan's chief government spokesman, Takeo Kawamura, told a news conference in Tokyo earlier. "We have grave concerns over this issue, and continue to gather intelligence."
But Alexei Borodavkin, Russia's envoy to international talks on North Korea's nuclear programs, indicated the launch may not violate the resolution, saying a judgment can be made after it occurs, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. He made the comments after meeting with his South Korean counterpart in Seoul.
U.S. intelligence officials say the North may indeed be planning to fire a satellite into orbit. National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair said Tuesday that space launch rockets and long-range missiles use similar technologies.
"The North Koreans announced that they were going to do a space launch, and I believe that that's what they intend," Blair told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Stephen Bosworth, the special U.S. envoy on North Korea, said in Seoul on Monday that "whether they describe it as a satellite launch or something else" the country would still be in violation of a U.N. resolution banning the country from any ballistic missile activity.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said Thursday that the country had informed the IMO as well as the International Civil Aviation Organization and others "of necessary information for the safe navigation of planes and ships" amid preparations for a satellite launch.
It did not say when the launch would take place.
Reports began emerging in February that North Korea was preparing to test a long-range missile. It has since described the launch as part of a legitimate and peaceful space program, and has vowed to retaliate against anyone who tries to prevent it.
North Korea's launch plans have stoked already tense relations with the United States and South Korea. North Korea accuses them of preparing for an invasion with annual military drills taking place this week, a charge they deny.
South Korea's two main airlines began redirecting flights away from North Korean airspace last week after the North threatened Seoul's passenger planes in protest over the annual exercises.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said "a range of options" are available if North Korea fires a missile.
She said Wednesday that the U.S., South Korea, Russia, Japan and China will discuss a response if the North goes forward with a missile test. The five countries are involved in the disarmament talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear programs.