Teruaki Ueno | Tokyo | September 23
Reuters – The United States and Japan have detected signs that North Korea is preparing to launch a ballistic missile capable of reaching almost anywhere in Japan, Japanese government sources said on Thursday.
The preparations were detected after the reclusive communist state refused to take part in a fourth round of six-party talks on ending its nuclear ambitions and said it would never give up its nuclear deterrent.
Tokyo and Washington had detected the signs after analyzing data from reconnaissance satellites and radio traffic, the Japanese government sources said.
North Korean military vehicles, soldiers and possibly missile engineers were converging on several Rodong missile bases in the northeastern part of the isolated communist state, they said.
The signs were first detected on Tuesday, the sources said.
“At this stage we don’t think North Korea’s missile launch is imminent,” one source told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “But we still don’t know whether North Korea is serious about missile launches.”
North Korea shocked the world when it fired a missile over Japan in 1998. The test of the Taepodong ballistic missile demonstrated that major population areas, including Tokyo, were within the estimated 600-mile range of the missile.
South Korean Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo said on Thursday he could not rule out the possibility of North Korea test-firing a missile.
“Activities related to North Korea’s missiles have been detected recently,” Rhee told reporters in Seoul.
“But our assessment is that they are likely part of an annual exercise by a North Korean missile unit,” he said. “We cannot rule out the possibility of a test firing, so South Korean and U.S. authorities are following the indications.”