BEIJING (AP) — Despite China's concerns, a senior North Korean nuclear negotiator reiterated his government's position on a planned long-range rocket launch after holding talks Monday with his counterpart in Beijing.
Ri Yong Ho said the launch of the satellite is separate from recent talks with the United States and North Korea over food aid. The United States promised the aid in exchange for a suspension of North Korea's nuclear programs and has warned that the launch could jeopardize that agreement.
"The launching of the satellite is part to our right to develop space programs," Ri said outside a government guesthouse in Beijing. He warned that the North would respond to any threats on its sovereignty.
"Regarding the peaceful purpose of the satellite launching, if others are practicing double standards or inappropriately interfere with our sovereign rights, we will be forced to react to it. But we will try our best for these things not to happen," he said.
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.
South Korea's presidential office called the launch a provocation that was aimed at developing a long-distance method to deliver nuclear weapons, Yonhap news agency reported.
China, North Korea's main political and economic ally, expressed rare concern Saturday about the planned launch and called on all parties to exercise restraint. Ri said he met with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei in Beijing but did not give details about their talks.
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.
Ri said Pyongyang was sending invitations to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency as part of implementing the agreement with the United States reached in February.
The agreement was seen at the time as a promising step toward better relations between them and progress toward restarting six-nation talks on North Korean nuclear disarmanent.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday the U.S. was "heartened" that the other parties in the talks, including China and Russia, had made clear they regard the launch as a bad idea, violating North Korea's international obligations.
"We are hoping and expecting that the DPRK will take that to heart," Nuland told a news briefing in Washington, referring to the North by the abbreviation of its formal title, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.