N. Korea reportedly assembling advanced long-range missile

Newspaper says communist nation could conduct a test launch of Taepodong-2 this month.

n korean missiles 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
n korean missiles 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
North Korea appears to be assembling its most advanced long-range missile and could conduct a test launch this month, a newspaper reported Friday, amid US and South Korean warnings against disturbing regional stability. The Taepodong-2 missile has recently been moved to the east coast Musudan-ni missile site, but has not yet been seen near the launch pad, the mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo reported, citing an unidentified South Korean government official. "We assume that they are currently assembling the first and second-stage rockets," the newspaper quoted the official as saying. South Korean and US intelligence authorities believe that the North could test-fire the missile, believed to be capable of reaching the western US, around Feb. 25, the first anniversary of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's inauguration, the paper said. The National Intelligence Service, Seoul's top spy agency, said it could not confirm the report, citing the sensitivity of intelligence matters. Seoul and Washington have issued repeated warnings to North Korea over a possible launch, with South Korea's new Unification Minister Hyun In-taek telling lawmakers Friday that the North should not fire a missile. Hyun, a key architect of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's hardline 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 said at 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 UN Security Council resolutions condemning the country's missile tests in 1998 and 2006. Earlier this week, US State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood said the US doesn't want to see "provocative acts on the part of the North that will raise tensions" in the region. Late last month, Pyongyang declared it would scrap peace accords with South Korea and warned of a war on the divided peninsula. North Korea's saber-rattling has been interpreted as an attempt to grab President Barack Obama's attention. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to visit South Korea next week. International disarmament talks on North Korea's nuclear programs have been stalled for months over how to verify the country's past nuclear activities. Separately, Han renewed Seoul's proposal for talks "anytime" with the North to discuss economic cooperation and address other issues. Ties between the Koreas have soured since the conservative Lee took office one year ago and broke with the two previous administrations' policy of providing unconditional aid to the North. Pyongyang has responded by cutting off ties, halting inter-Korean projects and restricting the number of South Koreans who can cross the border. The rival states are still technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.