Gov'ts Look Into North Korean Long-Range Missile Test Reports

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

( - Reports in East Asia Friday said North Korea may be preparing to test fire a long-range missile, but the Japanese and South Korean governments said they could not confirm their veracity.

The reports appearing in several regional media outlets said satellite pictures indicated activity at a launch site in northeastern North Korea suggested that a missile launch was being readied.

A report by Japanese national broadcaster NHK cited unnamed South Korean officials, while other Japanese outlets -- the Kyodo and Jiji news agency -- cited unnamed Japanese and U.S. sources.

The Korea Herald quoted a military official as saying a joint U.S.-Korean military satellite had picked up increasing movements of trailers and other materials earlier this week.

NHK said the missile may be a Taepodong-2. North Korea is known to be developing a Taepodong-2, but has yet to test one. Defense experts say the variant's design aims for a range that would take in Hawaii and parts of Alaska.

South Korea's defense ministry said it was trying to establish if the reports were accurate, but suggested they were not.

Seoul's foreign ministry spokesman Bae Young-han said the government was "closely watching" the North but had no indication yet that the reports were true.

Japanese government spokesman Shinzo Abe told a regular news conference that Tokyo did not believe a launch was "imminent."

North Korea in 1998 caused jitters in Japan and the broader region when it launched a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. That missile has a range of some 2,000 kilometers, bringing Japan, South Korea, as well as U.S. military bases in both countries within range.

The following year, Pyongyang declared a moratorium on test-launching longer-range missiles, and has so far kept to it.

In 2004, South Korean defense ministry officials said the North had been carrying out tests on the main engine of the Taepodong-2.

Japan announced in 2003 that it would begin collaborating with the U.S. in developing a missile defense umbrella.

Tokyo says it plans to deploy Patriot PAC-3 missile interceptors by next year.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow