SEOUL, South Korea — The United States and other countries condemned North Korea on Friday after it announced that it intends to use a rocket to blast a satellite into space, seemingly violating Pyongyang's recent promise to halt weapons tests in exchange for food.
U.S. officials called the planned launch a "direct violation" of international commitments that could bring to a halt almost every aspect of a deal hammered out two weeks ago that included food aid for the impoverished and isolated country. South Korea's Foreign Ministry said the rocket test was a "grave provocative act against peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia."
Although the move follows decades of broken promises by the reclusive North Korean government, it surprised leaders in Washington, Tokyo and Seoul because of the optimistic progress in recent weeks after years of stalled talks. The United States was finalizing details for 240,000 metric tons of food North Korea had desperately sought for more than a year.
The deal was also seen as a tentative first step toward better relations with new leader Kim Jong Eun and, possibly, toward a resumption of long-stalled multilateral talks over North Korea's nuclear program.
North Korea described the launch as both scientific and celebratory and said it would take place between April 12 and 16 to mark the centennial of founder Kim Il Sung's birth. The North, which has signed an international space treaty, argues that it has every right to launch satellites for peaceful purposes.
But U.S. and South Korean officials have characterized North Korea's satellite program as a cover for long-range missile tests because similar technology is used to launch both.
After a similar purported satellite launch in April 2009, the United Nations tightened sanctions against the North, adding a measure to ban Pyongyang from any future launches using "ballistic missile technology."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said a launch would "pose a threat to regional security and would also be inconsistent with North Korea's recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches."