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Russian help to boost North Korea bid to launch spy satellite

Russian help to boost North Korea bid to launch spy satellite
People watch a TV report on North Korea's botched space rocket launch at Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, 24 August 2023. Earlier in the day, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said its second launch of a 'military reconnaissance satellite' from the Tongchang-ri area failed due to an error in the emergency blasting system during the third-stage flight. EPA-EFE/JEON HEON-KYUN

SEOUL, Nov 1 (Reuters) - North Korea is in the final stages of preparations for the launch of a spy satellite and the chances of its third attempt succeeding are high, South Korea's intelligence agency said in a briefing on Wednesday, according to a lawmaker present.

North Korea has also sent more than 10 shipments of munitions to Russia for use in the war against Ukraine, including over one million artillery rounds, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) was quoted as saying.

That is roughly the supply of munitions that Russia expends in its war with Ukraine in two months, a member of the parliament committee Yoo Sang-bum said, citing the briefing.

The NIS made the report in a closed-door parliament intelligence committee session.

The shipments were made by vessels moving between a North Korean east coast port and Russian ports, as the United States previously reported, as well as by air out of North Korea, the spy agency said.

“North Korea is running its munition factories to full capacity to meet demand for military supplies to Russia and even mobilising residents and civilian factories to make ammunition boxes for exports,” Yoo told reporters, citing the NIS report.

North Korea’s two attempts to launch its first reconnaissance satellite this year ended in failure as stages of the boosters experienced malfunctions.

The launch is part of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s push to bolster its military capabilities that also include long-range ballistic missiles, ballistic missile submarines and hypersonic missiles.

North Korea appears to have received technical assistance from Russia and is likely checking the launch vehicle’s engine and launch mechanism, Yoo cited NIS as saying, but added that it did not provide further details due to security reasons.

The North had previously pledged to make a third attempt in October, but has so far shown no indication that it was about to go ahead with the launch.

Kim met Russian President Vladimir Putin in September in the Russian far east where he toured Russia’s modern space launch station, fuelling speculation that Moscow would help with his space program in return for supply of conventional weapons.

While hosting Kim, Putin said Russia would help North Korea build satellites, without providing specifics.

 

BLINKEN TO VISIT SOUTH KOREA

North Korea remains strapped for financial resources and technical expertise in its satellite program, and appears to have not yet mastered the technology for atmosphere re-entry of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) warheads, Yoo said.

South Korea, Japan and the United States have condemned the supply of arms and military equipment by North Korea to Russia, laying out what they said was evidence that confirmed deliveries of such shipments.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit South Korea on Nov. 8-9 and meet Foreign Minister Park Jin to discuss North Korean issues, South Korea said on Wednesday.

In return for arms support for Moscow, North Korea is trying to bring in Russian fighter jets and other aircraft, Yoo quoted NIS as saying. North Korea has denied it was supplying arms to Russia and has also dismissed reports by some military experts that its arms were being used by Hamas militants in the fighting against Israel.

The spy agency also said that North Korea dispatched a delegation that mainly consists of experts on artillery to Russia in mid-October, Yoo said.

“North Korea is also seen to be trying to use the Israel-Hamas war in a multifaceted way,” Yoo said after the briefing. “Indications of Kim Jong Un’s order to look for ways to comprehensively support the Palestinians have been obtained,” he said.

North Korea and China are behind more than 80% of cyber attacks against South Korea, the agency also reported. The NIS and the FBI have frozen assets equivalent to $3.45 million stolen by North Korea through hacking, it said.

By Jack Kim and Ju-min Park

(Reporting by Jack Kim, Hyonhee Shin and Ju-min ParkEditing by Ed Davies)

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