North Korea assembling long-range missile: report

Other News Materials 3 June 2009 07:43 (UTC +04:00)

North Korea is preparing to assemble an intercontinental ballistic missile with the range to reach U.S. soil for launch as early as in mid-June, a South Korean newspaper reported on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

North Korea, whose military posturing after last week's nuclear test prompted U.S. and South Korean forces to raise their alert level, is also believed to be readying to test-fire at least three or four mid-range missiles.

"The ICBM is covered up so it's tough to be absolutely clear but it looks similar to the Taepodong-2 fired in April but longer," the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper quoted a government source as saying.

The missile has been moved into to a hangar for assembly at its newly built west coast Tongchang-ri missile range, and the North appears to be rushing to launch it, the source said.

The launch area is about 90 km (55 miles) west of Yongbyon, the North's main nuclear complex. However, weapons experts say the hermit state does not yet have the technology to turn its nuclear material into a warhead to put onto a missile.

North Korea fired a long-range Taepodong-2 rocket on April 5, drawing U.N. Security Council condemnation and calls for tougher enforcement of sanctions. The Security Council is debating a new resolution against the North for its May 25 nuclear test.

The growing military tension has come amid reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is moving to anoint his youngest son as heir to the ruling family dynasty.

A number of analysts said the latest military grandstanding was designed to give Kim, whose power base stems from his support for the military, greater leverage over power elites at home to nominate his successor.

A U.S. senior official in Washington said that now Kim appears to have set up Kim Jong-un as official heir, the North may start to reduce tensions.