U.S. official says missile launching ‘imminent’

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U.S. official says missile launching ‘imminent’

North Korea appears to be ready to launch a mid-range missile near a station off the east coast, putting not only the Korean Peninsula, but U.S. territory Guam, within striking range.

A U.S. official told CNN yesterday that a missile launch by North Korea is “imminent” at a test site near the eastern coastal city of Wonsan, about 10 miles off the East Sea.

“Based on what the United States has seen, the belief is that the missiles have received their liquid fuel and are ready to launch,” the report said.

The official also said Pyongyang is expected to launch the missiles without issuing a maritime shipping warning or giving prior notice to Washington.

“We hope they issue a notification, but at this point we don’t expect it,” the official said.

Sources in Seoul told reporters that the missiles are thought to be the intermediate-range Musudan, which reportedly has a range of up to 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles).

It is reportedly capable of reaching Guam, a Western Pacific territory of the United States, though it will not be able to reach the continental United States.

So far, North Korea has never fired a Musudan missile. It was unveiled to the public only once, at a military parade in October 2010 to mark the 65th anniversary of the regime’s ruling Workers’ Party.

Multiple sources also said Pyongyang may also simultaneously launch short-range Scud and Rodong ballistic missiles, with ranges of less than 1,000 kilometers, along with the Musudan.

During the previous launches, North Korea test-fired a barrage of various missiles, along with its long-range ballistic missiles.

On July 5, 2006, Pyongyang launched a total of seven missiles, a Taepodong-2, four Scuds and two Rodong missiles. On July 4, 2009, it also fired seven - five Scuds and two Rodongs.

If the North tests a Musudan missile, it could blast off toward the East Sea and the South Sea, a senior South Korean military official told the state-run Yonhap News Agency yesterday.

“If North Korea launches a Musudan, it could fire it off toward the East Sea, in the waters between Hokkaido and Honshu, to not cause a problem for Japan,” the official said. “If the missile is southbound, it would pass South Korean airspace and fly across eastern Jeju Island and western Kyushu Island.” The official also assumed the reason why Pyongyang didn’t issue its maritime shipping warning would be “to hide the trajectory of its missile and prevent it from being intercepted by Japan.”

A top U.S. admiral said the U.S. military could intercept a North Korean missile. Admiral Samuel Locklear, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, spoke before the Senate Committee on Armed Services that the military and its allies are “ready” for an attack from North Korea. When asked if he would “recommend” his military shoot down any missiles from the North, he said, “If [it] was in defense of the homeland, I would certainly recommend that action, and if it was in defense of our allies, I would recommend that action.”

An official at the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential compound, also said Seoul is also considering intercepting a missile from North Korea if it flies over its territory.

“It is natural for the Japanese government to prepare to shoot down a North Korean missile if it crosses its territory,” the official said. “We are also equipped with a Korea-U.S. combined defense system and thoroughly prepared for any kinds of provocation from North Korea.”

The South Korean Navy dispatched a group of missile defense weapons and monitoring devices to its waters, poised to respond to any missile attacks.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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