North Korea Could Test Fire a Missile This Weekend

Many believe N. Korea's planned launch is a cover to test a Taepodong-2 missile.

ByABC News
March 26, 2009, 9:16 AM

SEOUL, S. Korea, March 26, 2009 — -- Tensions have escalated in Seoul and Tokyo after North Korea placed a rocket on a launch pad that they plan to test fire between April 4 and 8. But military experts in Seoul said that technically, the rocket could be launched as early as this weekend.

South Korea maintains that the rocket poses a "serious threat" to its national security and is a "provocative action," warning it would seek punishment through international sanctions at the United Nations Security Council.

Japan scrambled to prepare for possible damage from falling debris should the test launch fail. North Korea notified the International Maritime Organization March 12 that waters off northern Akita and Iwate prefectures would be a risk zone for falling fragments, according to the launch's projected trajectory.

The Disaster Management Office in Akita Prefectural Government told ABC News that "the last thing to do is to scare people" by closing offices and schools, but it is cautioning citizens to stay calm and wait for government instructions.

The Japanese Defense Ministry said Thursday that some batteries of PAC-3 land-to-air missiles will be shifted from Tokyo to the northern part of Japan to intercept fragments that may fall. A pair of Aegis destroyers carrying missile interceptors is also in nearby waters.

China avoided comment, according to Kyodo News, as to whether it would join the international community to consider sanctions. "At this stage, we hope the countries involved will maintain restraint and cool-headedness," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

North Korea Claims Test Is Part of a 'Peaceful' Space Program

North Korea's Foreign Ministry in an official statement reiterated its position that its test is for an experimental communications satellite, not a missile, as part of a "peaceful" space program.

But Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have said that the launch is a cover to test the Taepodong-2 missile, which has a range of up to 3,852 miles and is capable of reaching the West Coast of the United States. "Whether it is a space launch or a missile launch, either way, even though the North Koreans have made a public declaration that this is a space launch, it would be a violation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.