SEOUL — North Korea loaded booster rockets onto a launch pad and moved about 10 fuel tanks to a launch site in preparation for test-firing a long-range missile that could reach as far as the U.S. mainland, a newspaper reported here today.
South Korea and the United States made the assessment after analyzing satellite images, the daily Chosun Ilbo reported, citing an unnamed high-level South Korean government official. The warhead section hasn't been loaded, the paper said.
Meanwhile, a Japanese newspaper, citing unnamed government sources, reported that North Korea could launch a long-range missile as early as Sunday. The Sankei Shimbun said Japan had dispatched two Aegis destroyers to the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean.
The reports follow warnings by the U.S. government that the communist state is accelerating preparations for testing a missile that has the potential to strike the United States.
A U.S. official said Friday that a test of the Taepodong 2 long-range missile might be imminent. The official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said the Bush administration was very concerned about activities that pointed toward a test.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that any missile launch by the North Koreans would be a provocation and would violate their 1999 commitment not to carry out such tests.
Japanese and South Korean officials also have expressed concern in recent days about the reported North Korean missile launch activities.
The reports come after a prolonged hiatus in six-party nuclear disarmament talks designed to create a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons.
Persistent efforts by the United States and other members of the group to persuade North Korea to resume the discussions have not been successful. The last round of talks were in November.
North Korea is demanding that the United States revoke sanctions that Washington imposed several months ago in response to alleged counterfeiting of U.S. dollars and other currency violations.