Seoul warns North Korea not to launch a spy satellite and hints a 2018 peace deal could be suspended

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s military warned North Korea not to go ahead with its planned spy satellite launch, suggesting Monday that Seoul could suspend an inter-Korean peace deal and resume frontline aerial surveillance in retaliation for a launch.

North Korea failed in its first two attempts to put a military spy satellite into orbit earlier this year and didn’t follow through with a vow to make a third attempt in October. South Korean officials said the delay was likely because North Korea is receiving Russian technological assistance and that the North could conduct a launch in coming days.

Senior South Korean military officer Kang Hopil urged North Korea to cancel its third launch attempt immediately.

“Our military will come up with necessary measures to protect the lives and safety of the people, if North Korea pushes ahead with a military spy satellite launch despite our warning,” Kang said in a televised statement.

South Korean Defense Minister Shin Wonsik said in an interview with public broadcaster KBS on Sunday the launch was expected later this month and that South Korean and U.S. authorities were monitoring North Korea’s moves.

The U.N. Security Council bans any satellite launches by North Korea because it views them as a disguised test of its missile technology. Kang said while North Korea needs a spy satellite to improve its monitoring of South Korea, its launch is also aimed at bolstering its long-range missile program.

South Korea has accused North Korea of receiving Russian technologies to enhance its nuclear and other military capabilities in return for suppling conventional arms to support Russia’s war in Ukraine. Both Moscow and Pyongyang have dismissed as groundless the alleged arms transfer deal, but both nations — locked in separate, protracted security tensions with the United States — have been openly pushing to expand bilateral cooperation.

In September, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un travelled to Russia and met President Vladimir Putin in Cosmodrome, Russia’s most important domestic launch center. When Putin was asked by Russia’s state media whether his country would help the North build satellites, he said that “that’s why we have come here. The (North Korean) leader shows keen interest in rocket technology.”

Kang, the South Korean officer, didn’t explicitly say what retaliatory steps South Korea could take if North Korea makes a third launch. But he strongly hinted the steps could include a suspension of 2018 inter-Korean military agreements requiring both Koreas to halt aerial surveillance activities and live-firing drills along their tense border.

Kang asserted that North Korea has already violated the 2018 agreement numerous times. He cited the North’s destruction of an unoccupied inter-Korean liaison office in North Korea, flying drones into South Korean territory and staging firing drills along the maritime border.

“Despite the North’s repeated violations of the agreement, our military has been patiently abiding by clauses in the military agreement, but that has caused considerable problems in our military’s readiness,” Kang said.

He said South Korea has avoided firing exercises at a buffer zone created near the rivals’ disputed western sea boundary. Kang said South Korea’s operation of aerial reconnaissance assets designed to monitor North Korea’s forward-deployed artillery guns and other equipment has been significantly restricted due to the 2018 deal as well.

The military deal, reached during a short-lived rapprochement between South Korea’s then liberal President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, created buffer zones along land and sea boundaries and no-fly zones above the border to prevent accidental clashes.

Relations between the rivals have later strained after the breakdown of broader nuclear diplomacy between Kim and then U.S. President Donald Trump in 2019. North Korea has since been focusing on enlarging its nuclear arsenal, prompting South Korea’s current, conservative president, Yoon Suk Yeol, to expand military drills with the United States.

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