- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - North Korea is preparing to launch a short- or medium-range missile, which could come immediately after it carries out its plan to test a long-range rocket early next month, a Japanese newspaper reported Sunday.

North Korea says it will shoot a communications satellite into orbit between April 4 and 8 as part of a peaceful bid to develop its space program. Regional powers, however, suspect the North is only trying to use the launch to test its advanced missile technology, warning the action would trigger international sanctions.

U.S. officials said last week that North Korea has mounted a rocket onto its northeast coastal Musudan-ni launchpad, putting the country well on track for a launch. U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials have warned they will take the North to the U.N. Security Council if the country goes ahead with its plan.

Tokyo’s Sankei newspaper, citing several unnamed Japanese government sources, reported Sunday that the North was preparing for the test-launch of another missile from Wonsan, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) south of the Musudan-ni lauchpad. The report said U.S., South Korean and Japanese intelligence analyses said the missile could be a short- or medium-range missile.

The Japanese Defense Ministry declined to comment on the report. The South Korean Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service _ the country’s main spy agency _ said they couldn’t immediately confirm the report.



Experts in Seoul, meanwhile, say the North will definitely go ahead with the rocket launch plan it has announced but its exact timing depends on weather conditions and technical matters.

“It’s unthinkable” for the North to cancel its launch plan now, said Paik Hak-soon, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute think tank outside Seoul.

Paik said the North would not want to be seen as bowing to growing international pressure and would not want lose what it views as a good opportunity to bolster its leverage with President Barack Obama’s government as it formulates its policy on Pyongyang.

Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University, said wind direction and velocity and whether it’s cloudy and rainy will affect launch timing the most.

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Associated Press writers Shino Yuasa in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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