WASHINGTON, Mar 26 – North Korea has placed a long-range missile on a launch pad, a US official has said, as Washington warned it would take the matter to the United Nations if Pyongyang goes ahead with the planned launch.,
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a launch for any purpose would be a violation of a UN Security Council resolution.
"We intend to raise this violation of the UN Security Council resolution, if it goes forward, in the UN," Clinton said during a visit to Mexico City.
"This provocative action in violation of the United Nations mandate will not go unnoticed and there will be consequences," she said.
A US counter-proliferation official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Japanese press reports that a long-range missile has been placed on a launch pad "are accurate."
The official said the missile was believed to be a Taepodong-2, a long-range missile that could, in theory, reach Alaska.
Two stages of the missile were visible but the top was covered with a shroud supported by a crane, NBC television reported, citing US officials.
North Korea has said it intends to launch a satellite over Japan and into orbit between April 4-8.
But the United States, South Korea and Japan suspect that the planned launch is a disguise for a long-range missile test.
South Korea Thursday described North Korea’s planned rocket launch as a "serious challenge and provocation" to regional security.
Defence ministry spokesman Won Tae-Jae declined to confirm the US report, saying Seoul would not comment on intelligence matters.
But he said the communist state is moving forward with preparations for the launch, which would constitute "a serious challenge and provocation" to the security of the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia.
"North Korea’s long-range rocket launch clearly violates UN Security council Resolution 1718. We strongly urge it to stop this immediately," Won said.
On Tuesday, North Korea warned that stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks would collapse if new UN sanctions are imposed to punish the launch. The forum groups the United States, Japan, Russia, the two Koreas and China.
Japan’s Security Council, meanwhile, will meet this week to prepare for the shooting down of a North Korean rocket if it threatens to strike its territory, Prime Minister Taro Aso said Wednesday.
Japan’s government will issue an advance order Friday for the Self-Defence Forces to use its Patriot missile defence system to destroy any missile or debris if it shows signs of falling toward Japan, Jiji Press reported.
North Korea says it would regard any attempt to shoot down its rocket as an act of war.
The last time North Korea launched a Taepodong-2, on July 4, 2006, the missile failed seconds after launch.
Success this time would show that it is capable of reaching Alaska or Hawaii with a nuclear capable missile.
President Barack Obama’s administration has issued no public warning that it would shoot down a North Korean rocket.
Admiral Timothy Keating, the US commander in the Pacific, said earlier this month there was a "high probability" that the United States could intercept a missile aimed at its territory.
Washington and Tokyo have worked jointly on a missile defence 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 bomb in 2006.
Pyongyang has said that the rocket’s first booster will likely plunge into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) off Japan’s northern Akita prefecture, while the second will drop into the Pacific between Japan and Hawaii.
In an un-sourced online report, The Sankei Shimbun said "North Korea has entered into the final stage of preparing for a launch as it has moved a rocket from storage."
And the Mainichi Shimbun said in an online report, quoting an unnamed South Korean defence source, that the missile was in place and would in theory be ready for launch as early as Saturday.
Tensions have been rising between North and South Korea. The North in January scrapped all peace pacts with its neighbour.
China’s military chief, General Chen Bingde, arrived Wednesday in Seoul for talks with senior South Korean officials days before the scheduled launch.
China, a traditional ally and major donor for impoverished North Korea as well as a permanent UN Security Council member, has not publicly urged Pyongyang to halt the launch.