- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has transported its most advanced missile, believed to be capable of reaching Alaska, to a site where it could be ready for launch in a week or two, news reports said Monday.

The reclusive communist country was also reportedly strengthening its defenses and conducting amphibious assault exercises along its western shore, near disputed waters where deadly naval clashes with South Korea have occurred in the past.

With the launch, Pyongyang could also thumb its nose at U.N. Security Council attempts to rein it in after last week’s nuclear test and a series of short-range missile launches.

South Korean media have speculated that the North wants to time the launch for around June 16, when South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has a summit in Washington with President Barack Obama.

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South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said the missile had been sent by train to the newly completed missile facility of Dongchang-ni, about 40 miles (60 kilometers) from the Chinese border.

Yonhap, quoting government sources, said the missile could be ready to launch in a week or two. South Korean defense and intelligence officials refused to comment.

U.S Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at a news conference in the Philippines, said North Korea appears to be working on a long-range missile, but it’s not clear yet what they plan to do with it.

Lee, hosting a conference of Southeast Asian leaders, warned the North against any provocation.

“If North Korea turns its back on dialogue and peace and dares to carry out military threats and provocations, the Republic of Korea will never tolerate that,” Lee said in his regular radio address.

Adding to tensions this week, the trial starts Thursday in Pyongyang of two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, accused of entering the country illegally and engaging in “hostile acts.”

North Korea faced strong international criticism after its last long-range missile launch, on April 5. The North said the launch was of a rocket intended to put a satellite in orbit. That modified version of the Taepodong-2 rocket flew about 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers), crossing over Japan before crashing into the Pacific Ocean.

The North later threatened to conduct nuclear and long-range missile tests unless the Security Council apologized for criticizing the launch. On Friday, it warned it would take a further “self-defense” measure if the Security Council provokes it. Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Monday the U.K. and other members of the council were drafting tough sanctions to rebuke North Korea over its “wrong, misguided, dangerous” nuclear test.

Officials say financial sanctions, a toughened arms embargo and searches of ships carrying suspected nuclear cargo could be included.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed the progress of the Security Council response during a telephone conversation Sunday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Monday.

The North’s missile and nuclear programs have been considered a top regional security concern, though the regime is not yet believed to have mastered the technology to make a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on a missile.

In another sign that a new launch is in the works, the North has designated a large area off its west coast as a “no-sail” zone through the end of next month, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said, citing unidentified intelligence officials.

Yonhap said North Korean troops conducted amphibious assault maneuvers along with west coast.

Experts said the North’s preparations were especially significant because it has never launched a long-range missile from the northwestern base.

Kim Tae-woo, vice president of Seoul’s state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said he thinks the North chose the site because of its proximity to China, making it more risky for the U.S. to strike.

The missile being prepared for launch is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile with a range of up to 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers), the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported, citing an unnamed South Korean official.

That would put Alaska within striking range.

On Monday, the North again said it is being provoked by South Korea and the United States, saying the number of spy planes operating in its airspace has risen dramatically.

“The U.S. imperialists and the South Korean puppets perpetrated at least 200 cases of aerial espionage against the DPRK in May, or 30 cases more than those in the same month of last year,” it said in a report in its official Korean Central News Agency.

The DPRK is an abbreviation of North Korea’s official name.

Associated Press writers Siyoung Lee and Young-joon Ahn on Yeonpyeong island, Lara Jakes in Manila, Philippines, Steve Gutterman in Moscow and David Stringer in London contributed to this report.

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