North Korea Could Test-Fire Missile this Month

South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo speaks in a parliamentary session at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 13, 2009. Han Friday said South Korea is pushing to establish a missile defense system to counter the threats posed by the North Korea's missiles.(AP Photo/Yonhap, Hwang Kwang-mo) **Korea Out**
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea's most advanced long-range missile is being assembled at a launch site for a possible test-firing later this month, a newspaper said Friday. The South responded by preparing "for all situations."

The Taepodong-2 missile has recently been moved to the Musudan-ni site on the North's eastern seaboard, but has not yet been seen near the launch pad, South Korea's mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo reported.

"We assume that they are currently assembling the first and second-stage rockets," the newspaper quoted an unidentified South Korean government official as saying.

South Korean and American intelligence authorities believe the North could test-fire the missile, potentially capable of reaching the western U.S., around Feb. 25, the first anniversary of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's inauguration, the newspaper said.

The National Intelligence Service, Seoul's top spy agency, said it could not confirm the report, citing the sensitivity of intelligence matters.

Separately, the North warned the South against violating the countries' disputed western maritime border, a key flash point.

The North doesn't recognize the border demarcated by the United Nations at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War and says it should be redrawn farther south. South Korea rejects the North's demand. The dispute led to deadly naval skirmishes in the area in 1999 and 2002.

If South Korea "encroaches even an inch of our sacred territorial waters," North Korean troops will "put warmongers into the West sea," the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Friday.

North Korea's saber-rattling has been interpreted as an attempt to grab President Barack Obama's attention, though his defense secretary, Robert Gates, has played down reports of possible missile launch preparations, noting Tuesday that the North's last such test in 2006 was a failure.

But Seoul and Washington have issued repeated warnings to North Korea over a possible launch, with new South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek telling lawmakers Friday that the North should not fire a missile and Seoul will "sternly deal" with any provocation.

Hyun, a key architect of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's hard-line policy on North Korea, said Seoul was "closely watching the movements of North Korean troops and making thorough preparations for all situations."

South Korea is pushing to establish a missile defense system to counter the threats posed by the North's missiles, Prime Minister Han Seung-soo told a parliamentary session.

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said a test launch would threaten stability on the Korean peninsula, isolate the North and trigger punitive measures, citing U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning the country's missile tests in 1998 and 2006.

Late last month, North Korea declared it would scrap its peace accords with South Korea and warned of a war on the divided peninsula.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to visit South Korea next week and will no doubt address the deteriorating ties on the peninsula. Also on the agenda will be stalled international disarmament talks on North Korea's nuclear programs.

While reports of a possible missile test raise particular concern given North Korea's nuclear arsenal, Obama's top intelligence official said Thursday that North Korea probably would not use nuclear weapons against U.S. forces unless it thought it was on the verge of "military defeat and risked an irretrievable loss of control." North Korea is not believed to have the technology to mount a nuclear weapon on a missile head.

National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair told lawmakers that North Korea probably views its nuclear arsenal more as a means of deterrence and a source of prestige and "coercive diplomacy" than as a military tool.

Ties between the Koreas have soured since the conservative Lee took office a year ago and broke with the two previous administrations' policy of providing unconditional aid to North Korea. The North has responded by cutting off ties, halting inter-Korean projects and restricting the number of South Koreans who can cross the border.

The two countries are still technically at war since the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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