Mon, Mar 30, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Iranian experts in Pyongyang ahead of missile launch

AFP , TOKYO AND SEOUL

A soldier stands guard near Patriot Advanced Capability-3 guided-missile units at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, yesterday.

PHOTO: EPA

A group of Iranian missile experts is in North Korea to help Pyongyang prepare for a rocket launch, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun reported yesterday.

North Korea has said it will launch a communications satellite over northern Japan between next Saturday and April 8, and the report said the 15-strong Iranian delegation had been in the country since the beginning of this month.

It includes senior officials with Iranian rocket and satellite producer Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, the daily said, quoting unnamed sources.

The Iranians brought a letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il stressing the importance of cooperating on space technology, it said.

The US, Japan and South Korea believe Pyongyang is actually testing a Taepodong-2 missile that could, in theory, reach Alaska.

North Korea and Iran have both come under international pressure over their nuclear activities and are reported to maintain close ties on missile technology.

Meanwhile, a report said yesterday that spy satellites had photographed the nose cone of a long-range North Korean rocket on its launch pad, but it remained unclear whether it was carrying a satellite or a warhead.

“Spy satellites spotted the upper part of the rocket with its coverings removed on the launch pad,” an unnamed South Korean government source told Yonhap news agency. “But it is impossible to tell what object has been loaded onto the round-shaped [rocket] top — satellite or a warhead.”

The South Korean defense ministry declined to comment on the report.

Seoul believes Pyongyang would choose its launch date based on weather considerations, Yonhap said.

North Korea's launch site is expected to have either snow or rain on Saturday afternoon, cloudy skies on April 5 and clear skies between April 6 and April 10, Yonhap said quoting the unnamed government source.

A top US general last week said the US could shoot down the projectile if it was determined to be a ballistic missile and Japan also said it would try to shoot down any rocket heading for its territory.

South Korea, Japan and the US say that North Korea’s rocket launch would be in violation of a UN Security Council resolution banning the communist state from carrying out ballistic missile activities.

Envoys from the three allies met in Washington during the weekend to discuss countermeasures to be taken against North Korea.

Washington and Tokyo have worked jointly on a missile defense shield, using land and sea-based missiles, against a possible attack from North Korea, which fired a missile over Japan in 1998 and tested a nuclear device in 2006.

Meanwhile, the Japanese military has deployed Patriot guided-missile units in and around Tokyo, the defence ministry said yesterday.

Two Patriot missile launchers are in place in front of the defence ministry building in downtown Tokyo, ministry officials said.

The cannon barrels are pointing toward air space in the northwest, where the rocket is expected to pass through.

Other missile units have been deployed in stations of the Ground and Air Self-Defence Forces in Saitama, north of Tokyo, and Chiba, southeast of the capital, the officials said.

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