By Elise Labott
North Korea's threat to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States has puzzled American officials, who see the regime ramping up its threats and rhetoric.
It's leading to the belief that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is more unpredictable, more dangerous and harder to read than his late father, Kim Jong Il.
"The new leader is acting in ways a bit more extreme than his father, who was colder and more calculated," a senior administration official said. "Kim Jong Il was more aware of the off-ramps to end these escalations.
"I don't recall he ever went this far in terms of the pace and scope of the rhetoric. Threatening to launch nukes directly against the United States and South Korea confirms what a lot of people have been saying, which is we are dealing with someone new," the official added.
Comparing Kim Jong Il, who died last December, to a chess player, the official said the son is more like a boxer.
By Larry Shaughnessy
The signs were there. Fuel trucks at the launch site, rocket stages being assembled. All supported North Korea's claims that sometime between December 10 and 22, it would launch a small satellite into orbit. Or was going to try.
But Sunday the regime admitted technical details will likely delay what was looking to be the first time the reclusive communist regime had attempted two long-range rocket or missile tests in one year. The launch window was extended by a week because of technical issue with the first-stage rocket engine, according to a report published Monday in the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported.
"To the degree that they will be more successful than they were last time in such a short period of time and what they've done to correct it, I can't tell you how they assess that," said Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. "Should they choose to go ahead with it, we'll just have to see how it goes."
The delay might indicate that short turnaround was problematic. The April satellite launch failed spectacularly shortly after the engines started.
By Jamie Crawford
North Korea's sudden dismissal of Ri Yong Ho from his post as army chief and from all his government posts caught many watchers of the secretive regime of Kim Jong Un by surprise and wondering what was going on.
"To me, it's just another sign of how this transition is quite unstable, and we think it's six months since Kim Jong Il died, and we think everything is normal in North Korea - clearly it's not normal," said Victor Cha, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and author of a new book on the Kim regime.
For Cha, who traveled to Pyongyang in 2006 as a member of the National Security Council, the announcement signals a transition still in flux. "It's a relative term when you say 'normal' in North Korea, but this is not business as usual, very clearly."
By Jill Dougherty
Log on to the Korean Central News Agency's state-run website and you'll find a concise explanation of what North Korea's launch of an Unha-3 long-range missile is all about: It's not about the missile, it's about the satellite sitting on top of that missile.
"Kwangmyongsong-3, which is to be launched under the DPRK government's policy on space development for peaceful purposes, is an earth observation satellite for collecting data essential for the country's economic development," the agency says.
For the United States, and most other countries, it's very much about the missile. Missiles can be used innocuously to launch peaceful satellites - and they can be used to deliver nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. As the National Security Council's Tommy Vietor quipped Wednesday: "North Korea doesn't need to spend this kind of money on a weather satellite. Go to weather.com."
By Elise Labott
It's what administration officials refer to as the North Korean "two-step," in which one daring act by Pyongyang is followed by another. This time, Washington and its allies are expecting North Korea to conduct a third nuclear bomb test shortly after the launch.
In April 2009, North Korea followed up a long-range missile test with a nuclear test. Then, after North Korea sunk the South Korean navy warship Cheonan in March 2010, it topped itself later that year by shelling South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea off the countries' west coast.
By Adam Levine
With North Korea's anticipated launch of a satellite-topped long-range missile set for within the next two weeks, more activity should soon be evident from the satellite images being collected from the skies above.
The expected launch is meant to commemorate what would have been the the 100th birthday of Kim Il Sung , who founded communist North Korea and is grandfather to current leader, Kim Jong Un. The regime informed the International Maritime Organisation that the satellite will be launched between April 12 and April 16.
Some activity has already been seen in commercial imagery made available of the Tongchang-dong Space Launch Center, although the latest image showed no sign of the actual rocket. FULL POST
by Adam Levine
The North Korean government's efforts to craft an image for new leader Kim Jong Un is an endless source of fascination.
The leadership transition was in the works even before the sudden death of his father, Kim Jong Il, and the U.S. government is "watching this transition closely," according to Gen. James Thurman, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, in testimony to the House Armed Services Wednesday.
By Elise Labott
Senior U.S. officials are trying to figure out where to go after North Korea's announcement that it would undertake a satellite launch using ballistic missile technology, senior White House officials said.
The announcement took the Obama administration, as well as the other countries involved in the six-party talks, by surprise and raised serious questions about whether the new Korean leader is any different from his father. FULL POST
By Elise Labott
Never a regime to do something for nothing, North Korea took what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called a "modest first step" in agreeing to halt its nuclear and missile program in exchange for food aid.
But Clinton knows full well that 20 years of broken promises by North Korea to successive American administrations, both Democrat and Republican, give good reason to pause before celebrating.
The deal though is a promising sign, a first step that is conciliatory rather than belligerent, as North Korea agreed to stop nuclear activity at its main facility in Yongbyon and impose a moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launched in exchange for 240,000 tons of food assistance.
It also promised to allow international inspectors into nuclear sites that have gone unexamined for close to five years.
By CNN National Security Producer Jamie Crawford
The new regime in North Korea is not yet ready to come in from the cold, but the United States still stands ready to engage, a senior State Department official said Thursday.
"Right now we are in the closest possible consultation with South Korea, Japan and working with China to try and get a sense of what's taking place in terms of the succession," said Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
As to whether the United States has been able to glean any sense of policy priorities of the new leader, Kim Jong Un, Campbell said it was still too early to tell. "It is probably too early to make any clear determinations about the ultimate character of this new leadership inside North Korea," he said.
"I think we have made very clear (to North Korea) our preparation to have a different kind of relationship" if they are ready to take the necessary steps on nuclear nonproliferation and other issues required by the international community, Campbell said.