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Former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il ordered the development of a satellite in 1987, a former senior North Korean official said in a recently published memoir.

 

Kim gave the order as he said North Korea should be capable of hitting the United States, said Kim Duk-hong, former deputy head of research at North Korea's ruling Workers' Party.

 

"There is nothing to be scared about once we develop a satellite," Kim quoted the former North Korean leader as saying in the memoir, citing documents that he accessed while he was in North Korea.

 

Kim Jong-il told scientists to develop a satellite "no matter what," said Kim, who defected to South Korea in 1997.

 

The defector said North Korea test-launched a satellite in August 1997, a decade after Kim Jong-il gave the instructions due to an economic crisis.

 

Kim's memoir gained media attention as North Korea has vowed to launch a series of satellites as part of its space development program.

 

There is lingering speculation that Pyongyang may launch a long-range rocket in the coming months to put what it claims is a satellite into orbit.

 

Seoul and Washington view a satellite launch as a cover for testing the North's ballistic missile technology, which is banned under U.N. resolutions.

 

Experts said there is a technological similarity between a rocket launch and a long-range missile test. They also said a rocket can carry either a satellite or a warhead and the technology in launching a satellite could be diverted for military purposes.

 

The North claimed it successfully put a satellite into orbit in April 2009. However, South Korea and the U.S. said at the time that the launch was to test North Korea's ballistic missile technology and that no object entered orbit.

 

The launch drew U.N. condemnation, prompting North Korea to conduct a second nuclear test a month later in retaliation.

 

North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung, the late grandfather of the current leader Kim Jong-un, publicly said that North Korea had no intention or capability to build nuclear weapons.

 

North Korea, however, was obsessed with its nuclear weapons program after setting up a research institute on atomic and nuclear physics in 1955.

 

Kim Jong-il, the late father of Kim Jong-un, gave medals and television sets to scientists and engineers after receiving a report in April 1991 that there was a breakthrough in the development of nuclear weapons.

 

Kim Jong-il said at that time that "today is the day when my lifelong wish came true," the defector said.

 

The defector also said the North's founder was angry at Soviet scientists as they returned home after working in the North's Yongbyon nuclear complex in the 1980s.

 

The founder blamed the Soviet scientists for just eating away rice, a key staple food for both South and North Koreans, the defector said.

 

The defector came to South Korea with Hwang Jang-yop, a former senior North Korean official who taught the country's "juche" philosophy of self-reliance to Kim Jong-il. Hwang died in 2010.

 

(YONHAP NEWS AGENCY)