North Korea Readies Rocket Launch

WASHINGTON (AP) - As North Korea fueled a multistage rocket
Thursday for its threatened satellite launch, President Barack
Obama promised a "stern" response and Japan vowed to press for an
emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.

Senior U.S. defense officials said that trailers and vehicles
carrying rocket propellant were in place at North Korea's coastal
launch site and that fueling had begun.

A U.S. counter-proliferation official said the fueling process
could take "up to a few days." But a senior U.S. intelligence
official told The Associated Press that Pyongyang was on track for
a projected Saturday launch

The American officials spoke on condition of anonymity to
discuss intelligence issues.

At the G-20 summit in London, Obama and South Korean President
Lee Myung-bak issued a statement agreeing on "a stern, united
response from the international community if North Korea launches a
long-range rocket."

State Department spokesman Robert Wood would not address the
U.S. intelligence reports. But he repeated earlier warnings for the
North Koreans not to take any "provocative" actions.

Japan's ambassador to the U.N. said his nation will request an
emergency session of the Security Council if North Korea proceeds
with the launch. Yukio Takasu said he raised the possibility during
closed-door council talks Thursday.

Takasu and other council diplomats say they anticipate a
possible emergency session as early as this weekend.

Chinese President Hu Jintao urged Japan to handle the expected
firing of a rocket by North Korea over Japanese territory calmly,
though he says Beijing is working to avert the launch. Hu made the
comment in a meeting late Thursday with Japan's prime minister,
Taro Aso, on the sidelines of the G20 meeting, said Osamu
Sakashita, Aso's deputy cabinet secretary for public relations.

China says it is trying in various ways to dissuade Pyongyang
from conducting the communications satellite launch that is widely
believed to be a test for a long-range missile.

North Korea heightened its militarist rhetoric toward the U.S.,
Japan and South Korea on Thursday, threatening retaliation for any
attempt to shoot down the rocket. Quoting an unidentified North
Korean general, the North Korean Central News Agency said Japan
would be struck with a "thunderbolt of fire" if it attempts to
intercept the multistage rocket.

The North Korean news service also issued a veiled threat
against American warships moving in position to monitor the launch,
saying: "The United States should immediately withdraw armed
forces deployed if it does not want to receive damage."

Some U.S. lawmakers are urging Obama to shoot down the rocket if
it endangers the United States or its allies. Defense Secretary
Robert Gates said during a weekend TV interview that the U.S. had
no plans to intercept the rocket - though it might consider the
move if an "aberrant missile" were headed to Hawaii "or
something like that."

U.S. officials have been keeping tabs on North Korea's launch
preparations with satellite imagery and other surveillance. North
Korea has complained that the U.S. is also using high-altitude U-2
spy planes and has warned the aircraft would be shot down.

North Korea's pre-launch movements are similar to the steps
taken in advance of its 2006 firing of a Taepodong-2 missile, the
U.S. intelligence official said.

The fueling starts an informal pre-launch phase that precedes
the formal countdown.

"You need to launch within a few days because rocket fuel is
typically quite corrosive," said Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control
expert at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.

U.S. intelligence analysts continue to believe that North Korea
aims to launch a communications satellite rather than conducting a
missile test, which would violate a U.N. resolution. However, the
rocket launch would yield data directly applicable to its
long-range ballistic missile program.

The issue was top of the agenda Thursday when Obama met with his
South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, on the sidelines of the
G-20 summit in London. Obama pledged to push for "peace and
stability," while Lee's office issued a statement saying the two
leaders agreed to keep working on a verifiable dismantling of North
Korea's worrisome nuclear programs.

Russia appeared to be edging closer to Washington's position in
an apparent show of goodwill. But a strong united response likely
would prove difficult given that China - the North's closest ally -
has veto power in the Security Council. Beijing continued to urge
all sides to show restraint.

North Korea is warning against any effort to intercept the
rocket, take the issue to the Security Council or even monitor the
launch. It says its armed forces are at a high level of
combat-readiness.

Debris from the rocket could fall off Japan's northern coast,
North Korea has said. Tokyo has deployed warships and missile
interceptors there as a precaution, but says it has no intention of
trying to shoot the missile down on its own.


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