North Korea pushes back at Obama's criticism, says it will never cancel rocket launch plans
PYONGYANG, North Korea - North Korea on Tuesday rebuffed President Barack Obama's criticism of its plans to launch a satellite aboard a rocket, calling his stance confrontational and vowing to go forward with what it insisted was a peaceful mission.
Worries about the North's plans, which Washington and Seoul say are a cover to test long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons, have overshadowed a two-day nuclear security summit in Seoul that has drawn nearly 60 leaders.
The summit ends Tuesday. Although North Korea is not a summit participant and its rocket plans are not on the official agenda, the launch has been a major point of discussion among world leaders on the sidelines. North Korea's surprise announcement 11 days ago of the launch came shortly after Pyongyang and Washington settled a food-aid-for-nuclear-freeze deal that had been seen as a breakthrough.
Obama has appealed to the North Korean leadership to abandon the rocket plan or risk jeopardizing its future and thwarting the deal to ship U.S. food aid in return for North Korean nuclear and missile moratoriums.
North Korea responded Tuesday that Obama's claims that the launch is a provocation stem from "his wrong conception."
During high-level talks with the United States, North Korea "consistently maintained that a moratorium on long-range missile launches does not include satellite launches for peaceful purposes," an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's government has warned it might shoot down parts of the rocket if they violate South Korean air space. Japan's defence minister on Tuesday ordered interceptor missile units to prepare for the launch.
North Korea has said the rocket's southerly flight path has been designed to avoid having any debris hurt neighbouring countries.
North Korea, which calls itself the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, vowed to go ahead with its launch plans, which it called a sovereign state's legitimate right and crucial for its economic development, the spokesman said.
"The DPRK will never give up the launch of a satellite for peaceful purposes," the spokesman said.
If the U.S. is sincere, Obama "should drop the confrontation conception of standing in the way of the DPRK, though belatedly, and make a bold decision to acknowledge that the DPRK also has a right to launch satellites," the spokesman said.
North Korea says it will launch its rocket around the April 15 celebration of the birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung.