South Korea says North is preparing for new rocket launch

Washington Post, By Chico Harlan

SEOUL — With fresh satellite images showing increasing activity at its launch site, North Korea could be ready to fire a long-range rocket within several weeks, South Korean officials said Tuesday.

“There is a high possibility” of a launch between December and January, a senior military official told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

The assessment followed the release of an image Monday by DigitalGlobe, which provides satellite imagery to the U.S. government. The image showed people, trucks and fuel tanks at the Sohae launch site, in North Korea’s northwestern corner. The activity, DigitalGlobe said on its Web site, is consistent with preparations in the weeks before Pyongyang’s long-range blast in April.

The family-run police state has said nothing about imminent plans for a launch, and security analysts cautioned that Pyongyang might not go through with a move that would rile its lone benefactor, China, whose Communist Party is breaking in new leadership.

But a North Korean delegate told a U.N. General Assembly meeting two weeks ago that the North would expand its space development program and “go through with launches of working satellites of all kinds essential for the economic development of the country.”

North Korea has claimed that previous rocket launches were used to place satellites into orbit. Washington and its allies in East Asia, though, say that such launches are de facto long-range missile tests, because they rely on the same technology. The North is banned under U.N. security resolutions from using “ballistic missile technology.”

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