North Korean leader Kim doubles down on satellite ambitions following failed launch

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged his military scientists to overcome a failed satellite launch and continue developing space-based reconnaissance capabilities, which he described as crucial for countering U.S. and South Korean military activities, state media said Wednesday.

In his first public comments about the failure, Kim also warned of unspecified “stern” action against South Korea over an exercise involving 20 fighter jets near the inter-Korean border hours before North Korea’s failed launch on Monday. In a speech Tuesday, Kim called the South Korean response “hysterical insanity” and “a very dangerous provocation that cannot be ignored,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

In another sign of tensions between the war-divided rivals, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea also has been flying large numbers of balloons carrying trash toward the South since Tuesday night, in an apparent retaliation against South Korean activists for flying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets across the border.

The South’s military said more than 150 North Korean balloons were found dropped in various parts of the country as of Wednesday afternoon and were being recovered by military rapid response and explosive clearance teams. It advised civilians not to touch the objects flown from North Korea and to report to military or police after discovering them.

There were no immediate reports of damage caused by the balloons. Similar North Korean balloon activities damaged cars and other properties in 2016.

In a statement issued over the weekend, North Korean Vice Defense Minister Kim Kang Il said the North was planning to scatter “mounds of wastepaper and filth” over border areas and other parts of South Korea, in what he described as “tit-for-tat” action against the leafletting by South Korean activists.

Kim Jong Un’s comments about the satellite were from a speech at the North’s Academy of Defense Sciences, which he visited a day after a rocket carrying what would have been his country’s second military reconnaissance satellite exploded shortly after liftoff. North Korea’s aerospace technology administration said the explosion was possibly related to the reliability of a newly developed rocket engine that was fueled by liquid oxygen and petroleum.

Animosities between the Koreas are at their worst level in years as the pace of both Kim’s weapons demonstrations and South Korea’s combined military exercises with the U.S. and Japan have intensified since 2022.

The failed satellite launch was a setback to Kim’s plan to launch three more military spy satellites in 2024 after North Korea’s first military reconnaissance satellite was placed in orbit last November. The November launch followed two failed attempts.

Monday’s launch drew criticism from South Korea, Japan and the United States, because the U.N. bans North Korea from conducting any such rocket launches, viewing them as covers for testing long-range missile technology.

North Korea has steadfastly maintained it has the right to launch satellites and test missiles in the face of what it perceives as U.S.-led military threats. Kim has described spy satellites as crucial for monitoring U.S. and South Korean military activities and enhancing the threat posed by his nuclear-capable missiles.

“The acquisition of military reconnaissance satellites is an essential task for our country to further strengthen our self-defense deterrence … in the face of serious changes to our nation’s security environment caused by U.S. military maneuvers and various provocative acts,” Kim said.

North Korea hasn’t commented on when it would be ready to attempt a satellite launch again, which some experts say could take months. __

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