As North Korea rocket launch nears, US allies discuss options
At the G-20 summit, the US, Japan, and South Korea are attempting to win backing for a Security Council resolution against North Korea.
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North Korea may launch a long-range rocket as soon as this weekend, ratcheting up tensions on the divided peninsula. President Obama held talks Thursday on the topic with his South Korean counterpart at the G20 summit in London, where the two pledged a "stern, united" international response if the launch took place.
The isolated communist state has said it will send a satellite into space between April 4 and April 8. It has warned that any effort to stop the launch would be treated as an act of war. The US, Japan, and South Korea say the launch would violate a UN-ordered ban on such activity.
Citing a senior US military official, CNN reports that North Korea has begun fueling the missile and may be days away from firing it into space. A satellite image shows a rocket on a launch pad with a payload on its upper section that is covered up. North Korea has said that it wants to launch a "communications satellite," but the US says this is an excuse for testing a long-range missile that is capable of hitting Alaska.
Japan has mobilized its self-defense forces to shoot down any debris from the missile. North Korea said Thursday that it would respond with a "retaliatory strike" against Japan if it intercepted its satellite, Xinhua reported. The Army's General Staff said in a statement carried on an official newswire that North Korea would not allow anyone to interfere.
The statement reiterated that the exploration of the space for peaceful purpose is a legitimate right of a sovereignty country and the DPRK will not allow any interference from anyone to its launch. It also warned the United States to withdraw its missile guided destroyers... And South Korea should "refrain from disturbing the launch."
North Korea has also threatened to down US spy planes that are monitoring the preparations for the missile launch, The Washington Post reports. In a radio broadcast, the government said it would "relentlessly shoot down" US reconnaissance aircraft.
Early this week, the United States, Japan and South Korea deployed ships with U.S.-made anti-missile systems to monitor the launch. But if the North Korean missile does send a satellite into orbit, these three countries have said they have no intention of trying to shoot it down.
Experts who have examined recent satellite photographs of the rocket said its payload is probably a satellite-like device.
"I am estimating a satellite weighing between 330 and 880 pounds," said Theodore Postol, a professor of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.