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North Korea extends window, plans for rocket launch (+video)

Faced with technical problems, North Korea extended the window during which they plan to launch a long-ranch rocket. It will be the country's second attempt to launch a rocket this year.

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North Korea said Monday that it has faced exceptionally cold weather since last week and that most areas received heavy snow on Wednesday. State media quoted Ri Chol Su, vice-director of the North's Central Meteorological Institute, as saying the temperature in western coastal areas, where the rocket launch pad is located, dropped to up to minus-17 C (1.4 F) from Saturday to Monday.

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Engineers can launch a rocket when it's snowing, but lightning, strong wind and freezing temperatures have the potential to stall liftoff, said Lee Chang-jin, an aerospace professor at Seoul's Konkuk University.

Still, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Monday that his government would maintain vigilance. Tokyo has mobilized its military to intercept any debris from the rocket.

"At this moment, we are keeping our guard up," Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto told reporters Monday. "We have not seen any objective indication that would cause us to make any change to our preparedness."

At least one Aegis-equipped South Korean destroyer has been deployed in the Yellow Sea to monitor North Korea's rocket launch, according to South Korean officials.

The United States has also moved extra ships with ballistic missile defense capabilities toward the region, officials said.

The U.S., Japan and South Korea say they'll seek U.N. Security Council action if the launch goes ahead in defiance of existing resolutions. The council condemned April's launch and ordered seizure of assets of three North Korean state companies linked to financing, exporting and procuring weapons and missile technology.

In addition to four previous launches, North Korea has unveiled missiles designed to target U.S. soil and has tested two atomic devices in recent years. It has not yet proven to have mastered the technology for mounting a nuclear warhead to a long-range missile, however.

A successful launch would mean North Korea could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland within two to three years, said Chong Chol-Ho, a weapons of mass destruction expert at the private Sejong Institute near Seoul.

Six-nation negotiations to offer North Korea much-needed aid in exchange for nuclear disarmament have been stalled since early 2009.

International pressure and the prospect of dialogue may be a factor in the delay, analysts in Seoul said.

China must have sent a "very strong" message calling for the North to cancel the launch plans, said analyst Baek Seung-joo of the South Korean state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

North Korea may also be holding off if the U.S., its longtime Korean War foe, actively engages Pyongyang in dialogue, said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Seoul's Dongguk University.

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

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