Govt scuttles N. Korea talks over rocket launch

NORTH KOREA/JAPAN - Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has postponed bilateral talks with North Korea that had been scheduled for this week, following Pyongyang's announcement it will launch a rocket later this month.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Satoshi Morimoto has issued an order to the Self-Defence Forces to prepare the missile defence system for intercepting a ballistic missile from North Korea should it enter Japanese territory.

Noda told reporters at the Prime Minister's Office on Saturday evening that he had decided to put off a two-day bilateral meeting of senior government officials scheduled to start Dec 5 in Beijing, after Pyongyang announced earlier in the day it would launch "a rocket with a satellite."

Noda discussed the issue with Morimoto, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and other government officials before speaking to reporters.

"All things considered, we've concluded it will be difficult to hold" the meeting of bureau chiefs as scheduled, Noda said.

The government has informed Pyongyang of its decision through diplomatic channels, according to officials.

On Saturday, the Korean Committee for Space Technology announced North Korea would carry out a rocket launch between Dec 10 and 22.

Japan will hold its House of Representatives election Dec 16, while South Korea's presidential election will take place Dec 19.

The period also includes the first anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il on Dec 17, the father of North Korea's current leader Kim Jong Un.

The committee said the "satellite" would be launched from Tongchang-ri, the same site used in Pyongyang's failed missile test in April.

If launched as announced, the missile is expected to fly over the Yellow Sea off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula and the Sakishima Islands, Okinawa Prefecture, before reaching waters off the east coast of the Philippines.

Noda has criticised North Korea's plan to launch a missile under the guise of a satellite.

If Pyongyang launches a missile, the prime minister said, "it would violate relevant UN Security Council resolutions, among other rules [it should observe]. It would be extremely regrettable if the country went ahead with the plan.

"The international community has to respond decisively [to this announcement]. We'll take all appropriate measures," he added.

Morimoto told reporters at the Defence Ministry he would call a meeting of the government's Security Council by the end of this week to issue an order to the SDF to intercept the missile if needed.

Noda instructed relevant ministries and agencies to take all necessary steps to gather and analyse information on the rocket.

He also gave instructions for officials to work with the United States, South Korea and other countries to urge North Korea to practice self-restraint.

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