If North Korea launches a satellite in mid-April, U.S. efforts to improve relations with the country will come to a standstill and South Korea may be provoked to enhance its defense systems, according to a leading American expert.

Charles “Jack” Pritchard, president of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, said in Atlanta March 22 that U.S and South Korean officials consider the satellite launch as a cover for a ballistic missile test.

Speaking at a luncheon of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta downtown, the Macon native, who served as a special envoy for negotiations with North Korea 2001-03, added that North Korea was going through “a transitional period” as Kim Jong Un assumes the leadership of his father, Kim Jong Il, who died on Dec. 17.

North Korea announced that the satellite launch is to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, who ruled the Communist state for more than four decades.

International leaders have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, but officials in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, have refused to comply, saying it is for peaceful purposes.

Following the announcement of the proposed launch, Washington suspended its plans to supply the country with food aid.

North Korea’s attempted launches in 1998, 2006 and 2009, all resulted in failure. But Mr. Pritchard predicted that in time such a launch would be successful if they kept testing.

The consequence of such a launch, he added, would seriously increase tensions in the area and undermine efforts to contain missile proliferation worldwide.

In response, he said, South Korea most likely would have to increase its defense capabilities.

Mr. Pritchard warned attendees at the Commerce Club luncheon that in contrast to the other speakers from the U.S. State Department and South Korea’s Washington embassy who focused on the economic relations, he was the bearer of  “bad news.”

But the long-term and growing strength of U.S.-South Korean relations would be a counterbalance to peninsula’s political and military instability, he said. 

To learn more about the Korea Economic Institute, go http://www.keia.org/

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