PYONGYANG – North Korea vowed Sunday to go ahead with plans to launch a long-range rocket, rejecting criticism in the West that it would scuttle recent diplomacy.
North Korea said Friday that it would fire an observation satellite into space on a new rocket as part of celebrations next month of the 100th anniversary of late President Kim Il Sung's birth.
The announcement came about two weeks after the North agreed to suspend long-range missile tests and make nuclear concessions in exchange for much-needed food aid from the United States. The agreement was seen as a promising step toward improved relations between the two wartime enemies.
The U.S., Japan, Britain and others have urged North Korea to cancel the planned launch, calling it a threat to diplomatic efforts and warning that it would violate a U.N. ban on nuclear and missile activity because the same rocket technology can be used for long-range missiles.
China, North Korea's main political and economic ally, also expressed rare concern Saturday and called on all parties to exercise restraint.
On Sunday, the North's official news agency dismissed the criticism, saying it denied North Korea the right to the peaceful use of space.
"It is a sinister and deliberate anti-peace action" by hostile forces, the Korean Central News Agency said in an editorial. It said North Korea remained determined to carry out its plans.
The launch, planned between April 12 and 16, would be North Korea's third announced attempt since 1998 to send a satellite into space aboard a long-range rocket. It defied similar criticism in April 2009 and went ahead with a launch that was condemned by the U.N. Security Council.
North Korea quit international nuclear disarmament talks in response and then tested an atomic device, resulting in tightened U.N. sanctions.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged North Korea to reconsider next month's planned launch, and U.S. officials have warned they would not provide 240,000 metric tons of promised food aid if it goes ahead.