By Hyung-jin Kim
The Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea will likely fire a suspected long-range missile capable of striking the western United States between April 4–5, a news report quoted a South Korean intelligence officer as saying on March 23.
North Korea has declared its intention to send a communications satellite into orbit sometime between April 4-8, raising concerns among neighboring countries that the launch is a cover for a test of its advanced missile technology.
The North notified international aviation authorities Saturday that it would close two routes through its airspace during that period.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed intelligence official as saying authorities “strongly believe” the launch will take place April 4–5 and believe it will involve a long-range missile, not a satellite.
“There is a possibility that the North will begin the countdown around this weekend,” the official said.
If North Korea plans the launch between April 4-5, it must physically have the rocket on site a week before, a Defense Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy. So far, satellite imagery has not detected a rocket on the launch pad.
The South Korean Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service, the country’s main spy agency, said Monday that they cannot confirm the news report.
Regional powers have urged Pyongyang to refrain from firing either a satellite or a missile, since both employ use of rocket technology. North Korea is banned under a U.N. Security Council resolution from engaging in ballistic activity.
The North has countered it by saying that they have the right to develop its space program, and warned it will punish anyone seeking to disrupt its launch.
A pro-Pyongyang newspaper in Tokyo reasserted, on Monday March 23, the North’s right to a rocket launch.
“Our nation’s satellite launch will be a precious step toward building an economically powerful nation,” said the Choson Sinbo, considered a mouthpiece for the communist regime.
A flurry of diplomatic efforts was under way with Japanese nuclear envoy, Akitaka Saiki, being in Beijing on Monday for talks with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei. North Korea agreed in 2007 to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for aid. That pro-cess has been stalled since last year.