North Korea has mounted a rocket on a launchpad on its northeast coast, US officials said, putting Pyongyang well on track for a launch the US and South Korea warned yesterday would be a major provocation with serious consequences.
Pyongyang says the rocket will carry a satellite, but regional powers suspect the North will use the launch to test the delivery technology for a long-range missile capable of striking Alaska. They have said the launch — banned by the UN Security Council in 2006 — would trigger sanctions.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned such a “provocative act” could jeopardize the stalled talks on supplying North Korea with aid and other concessions in exchange for dismantling its nuclear program.
“We intend to raise this violation of the Security Council resolution, if it goes forward, in the UN,” Clinton said on Wednesday in Mexico City. “This provocative action in violation of the UN mandate will not go unnoticed, and there will be consequences.”
North Korea responded yesterday by threatening “strong steps” if the Security Council criticizes the launch. Any challenge to its bid to send the satellite into space would mean an immediate end to nuclear disarmament talks, the foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. The statement did not specify what action the North would take.
North Korea had declared last month that it was making “brisk headway” in preparations to send its Kwangmyongsong-2 communications satellite into space, and notified aviation and maritime authorities of a time frame for the launch: April 4 and April 8, between 11am and 4pm.
Commercial satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe has revealed steady progress toward a launch, with a flurry of activity at the Musudan-ni site late last month and an open hatch and crane hovering above the launchpad two weeks ago, Jane’s Intelligence Review editor Christian Le Miere said. After mounting the rocket, scientists would need a number of days to conduct tests and to fuel the projectile, he said.
US spy satellites spotted the rocket two days ago, South Korean reports said — the first indication that the countdown toward a launch had begun. Counterterrorism and intelligence officials in Washington confirmed that a rocket was in position.
North Korea is now “technically” capable of launching it in three to four days, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing an unnamed diplomatic official.
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