South Korea's foreign minister yesterday urged North Korea to stop any preparations for a long-range missile test and return to talks on ending its nuclear weapons program.
"It is appropriate for North Korea to stop preparations for the missile launch and return to six-party talks," Ban Ki-moon told a weekly media briefing.
North Korea is preparing to launch an inter-continental ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland US, according to unidentified officials here and in the US.
"The government has deep concerns because a missile launch will have a negative impact on the international geopolitical situation and the settlement of North Korea's nuclear issue," Ban said.
A senior South Korean official who declined to be named confirmed reports that the North was preparing to test-fire a Taepodong-2 multi-stage missile with a range of more than 3,000km that could hit the US.
"Preparations which were reported last month have not stopped," the official said.
Earlier a US defense official was quoted as saying there were "enough indications" to suggest that Pyongyang was preparing to test-fire the missile.
Ban declined to say how far North Korea's launch preparations had progressed or when a launch could be ready, but he said South Korea was paying attention to strategic developments.
"The government has been closely following the possibility of North Korea launching a missile. It has been closely working together with other countries concerned to see if the missile launch is imminent," he said.
Experts say North Korea is well aware that its launch preparations are being monitored by US satellites. The nation may use the missile threat to draw the US' focus away from Iraq and Iran and force it to make concessions.
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