Top North Korean officials have promised to try a second time to launch a military spy satellite, calling their country’s first and botched launch last month their “gravest failure” this year, according to state media.
The pledge came at a ruling Worker’s Party of Korea meeting held between Friday and Sunday, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Monday.
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The enlarged plenary meeting ordered workers and researchers to analyse the failed launch and “heavily criticised” those in charge of the botched operation, KCNA said.
North Korea attempted to put its first military spy satellite into orbit on May 31, but the projectile and its payload crashed into the sea shortly after being launched, due to what Pyongyang said was a rocket failure.
The crash posed a setback to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s push to acquire a space-based surveillance system to better monitor the United States and South Korea.
Washington and Seoul condemned the May 31 launch, saying it violated United Nations resolutions barring Pyongyang from any tests using ballistic missile technology. Analysts have said there is a significant technological overlap between the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and space launch capabilities.
The KCNA report did not say exactly when North Korea might attempt a second launch. But South Korea’s spy agency earlier told legislators that it would take probably take “more than several weeks” for Pyongyang to determine what went wrong with the first effort.
South Korea said in recent days it had successfully retrieved a large chunk of the crashed rocket from the seabed. Seoul had been working for more than two weeks to recover the wreckage as the debris could help scientists gain insight into Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and satellite surveillance programmes.
A spy satellite is among several high-tech military assets Kim Jong Un has publicly promised to acquire to cope with what he calls US-led hostility. Other weapons systems Kim wants to possess are a multi-warhead missile, a nuclear submarine, a solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missile and a hypersonic missile.
Since the start of 2022, North Korea has carried out more than 100 missile tests, some of which were related to developing a spy satellite and other powerful weapons on Kim Jong Un’s wish list.
In April, North Korea tested a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time. The fuel in such missiles is already loaded inside, so they are more mobile than rockets using liquid propellant and are harder for outsiders to detect before launch.
During the party meeting, Politburo members claimed “big strides” in efforts to expand North Korea’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles, which they said support the government’s policy of maintaining “frontal confrontation” against its enemies, KCNA reported.
The Politburo members also analysed the “extremely deteriorating security situation” in the region caused by the “reckless war moves” of its rivals, apparently referring to the expanded US-South Korea military drills, the report said.
It said they unanimously approved unspecified plans for counteraction.
The North Korean Politburo members set down unspecified “important tasks” for defending national interests and strengthening solidarity with countries “opposed to the US brigandish strategy for world supremacy”, KCNA said.
The meeting also discussed ensuring self-sufficiency in food supply by increasing the country’s agricultural output and meeting the annual grain production target.
Earlier this year, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said the food situation in North Korea “seemed to have deteriorated”.
The isolated country is under strict international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes and its economy has been further strained by strict self-imposed border lockdowns aimed at stopping COVID-19 outbreaks.
Separately, the KCNA report said Kim Yong Chol, who previously served as director of the United Front Department and is a close aide to Kim Jong Un, was named as an alternate member of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee.
Kim Yong Chol was sidelined after a summit with the US in 2019 failed to reach a deal, a South Korean legislator said at that time. He steered negotiations for the summit working with his then-US counterpart and former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.