- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2009

SEOUL | North Korea could be ready to test-fire a missile within days as satellite imagery has shown increased activity at a missile site over the past 48 hours, a respected defense publication reported.

A significant increase in launch preparations has occurred at the Musudan-ni missile site on the communist country’s northeastern coast, said Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., a senior analyst at Jane’s Information Group who specializes in North Korean defense and intelligence matters.

“The latest satellite images … indicate that North Korea is preparing to launch either a prototype Taepodong-2 intermediate-range ballistic missile or a Paektusan-2 space-launch vehicle within a matter of days,” Jane’s Defense Weekly said in a report issued Friday in London.

Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have repeatedly warned North Korea against firing a missile, saying it would trigger international sanctions. The Taepodong-2 missile is thought to be capable of reaching U.S. territory.

Mr. Bermudez said satellite images show the activation of launch equipment and radars, and the arrival of numerous trucks and support vehicles. Support facilities for the engine test stand were undergoing expansion, the report said.

North Korea unsuccessfully launched a Taepodong-2 missile in 2006. That test alarmed the world and gave new energy to the stop-and-start diplomacy over North Korea’s nuclear program. The North is thought to possess up to a dozen nuclear warheads.

Ahead of the possible launch, the U.S., Japan and South Korea have increased intelligence-collection efforts, including sorties of reconnaissance aircraft and the deployment of Aegis-equipped naval vessels and specialized reconnaissance ships, the Jane’s report said.

North Korea has said it has the right to “space development” - a term it has used in the past to disguise a missile test as a satellite launch. When it test-fired a shorter-range Taepodong-1 missile over Japan in 1998, it claimed to have put a satellite into orbit.

On a regional tour, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged North Korea to halt “provocative actions,” noting Friday that such a missile test would violate a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution banning the North from pursuing missile or nuclear programs.

She also warned North Korea that its relations with Washington would not improve unless it stops threatening South Korea.

However, North Korea continued its harsh rhetoric toward the South on Saturday, accusing President Lee Myung-bak of “blatantly” attacking and insulting its socialist system by suggesting it was responsible for the country’s food shortages.

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