SEOUL • North Korea is preparing to launch a satellite, a South Korean newspaper said yesterday, as Seoul predicted that the North would look to open negotiations with the US next year in an optimistic 2018 outlook.
The Kremlin also said yesterday that Russia is ready to act as a mediator between North Korea and the United States, if both parties are willing for it to play such a role.
China on Monday called on all countries to make constructive efforts to ease tensions, a day after North Korea said that the latest United Nations sanctions against the country are an act of war and tantamount to a complete economic blockade.
The UN Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea last Friday, prompted by the Nov 29 test of what the North said was an intercontinental ballistic missile that put the US mainland within range of its nuclear weapons.
The latest sanctions seek to limit the North's access to refined petroleum products and crude oil, and its earnings from workers abroad.
Pyongyang is prohibited from carrying out any launch using ballistic missile technology, including satellites.
"Through various channels, we have recently learnt that the North has completed a new satellite and named it Kwangmyongsong-5," the Joongang Ilbo daily reported yesterday, quoting a South Korean government source.
"Their plan is to put a satellite equipped with cameras and telecommunication devices into orbit," he said.
Pyongyang launched its Kwang-myongsong-4 satellite in February last year, which most in the international community viewed as a disguised ballistic missile test.
A spokesman for the South Korean military's Joint Chiefs of Staff said there was "nothing out of the ordinary at this moment", but added that Seoul was watching out for any provocative acts, "including the test of a long-range missile disguised as a satellite launch".
The report by the South Korean paper came as the North's ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said on Monday that Pyongyang's satellite launches "absolutely correspond" with international laws concerning space development.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Monday for Washington and Pyongyang to start negotiations aimed at reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula, saying that Russia was ready to facilitate such talks.
"Russia's readiness to clear the way for de-escalation is obvious," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said yesterday.
On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chun-ying said the US-drafted resolution last Friday strengthened the sanctions, but that they were not designed to affect ordinary people, normal economic exchanges and cooperation, or humanitarian aid.
Chinese Customs data showed, however, that China did not export any oil products to North Korea last month, apparently going above and beyond sanctions which had been imposed earlier this year by the UN.
In its 2018 forecast, South Korea's Unification Ministry said yesterday: "North Korea will seek negotiation with the United States, while continuing to pursue its effort to be recognised as a de facto nuclear-possessing country."
The Unification Ministry added that it believed the North would eventually find ways to blunt the effects of the sanctions.
"Countermeasures will be orchestrated to deal with the effects, including cuts in trade volume and foreign currency inflow, lack of supplies and reduced production in each part of the economy," the ministry said in a report.
American diplomats have made clear that they are seeking a diplomatic solution, but US President Donald Trump has derided talks as useless and said that Pyongyang must commit to giving up its nuclear weapons before any negotiations can begin.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS