SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea has positioned its most sophisticated long-range ballistic missile at a launch site for a test firing that could come within weeks, a newspaper here reported yesterday.
The regime, which in May raised tensions worldwide by conducting a nuclear test, could fire its missile June 16, when South Korean President Lee Myung Bak meets with President Obama in Washington, according to the report.
In recent days, North Korea has ordered all shipping traffic from waters off its western coast, a ban it said was effective through July.
The moves come as the U.N. Security Council contemplates new sanctions against North Korea for conducting the underground nuclear test and launching five short-range missiles in May.
After the nuclear test, South Korean media reported today, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Jong Un, a little-known 26-year-old, was picked to be the reclusive nation's next leader, according to the Associated Press. North Korean diplomats have been instructed to respect the decision, the Hankook Ilbo and Dong-a Ilbo newspapers reported. The reports about the possible leadership succession come amid growing tensions stoked by the nuclear and missile tests.
The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper in Seoul reported that the new missile set for launch from the Dongchang-ni site on North Korea's west coast might be a version of the Taepodong 2 that Pyongyang fired in April. The report, citing unnamed sources, said the missile had a range of 4,000 miles and could reach Alaska.
South Korea and Japan acknowledged yesterday that a new missile test could come within weeks.
In Tokyo, chief cabinet secretary Takeo Kawamura told a news conference: "Given that North Korea has carried out a nuclear test, we can't deny the possibility that they will further test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile."
Without mentioning the new North Korean missile, Lee said in a radio address that South Korea would not tolerate further provocations from the North.
"North Korea's second nuclear test last week brought great disappointment and shock not only to our people but the entire world," Lee said, echoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' previous assertion that the world would not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.
During a news conference yesterday in Manila, Philippines, where he was meeting with Filipino military officials, Gates confirmed that the North Koreans appeared to be preparing a long-range missile. But, Gates added, "at this point, it's not clear what they're going to do."
Gates spoke before boarding a U.S. military jet for Alaska, where he was scheduled to view a key part of the U.S. missile-defense system, the ground-based interceptor silos. In the 2010 budget, Gates proposed cutting more than $1 billion from missile defense, halting the planned expansion of the interceptors from 30 to 44.
After the North Korean test, some experts, including former Defense Secretary William Cohen, have suggested rethinking those cuts. But Gates told reporters: "The 30 interceptors we have are adequate for years to come to deal with the North Korean threat as we see it developing."
Gates said North Korea would not be able to deploy a significant number of long-range missiles in a short time. If North Korea were to expand its capabilities, the United States would have "ample time" to build additional interceptors.
A Plea From Kin of Reporters Held in North Korea
Laura Ling's sister, parents, and husband appeared yesterday on NBC's Today show alongside Euna
Lee's husband and 4-year-old daughter to plead with North Korea for leniency and urge Pyongyang and Washington not to let the detained American journalists become pawns in an increasingly tense geopolitical game.
The two reporters vanished March 17 while on a trip near the Chinese- North Korean border. A phone call came last Tuesday.
"They were very scared; they're very, very scared," sister Lisa Ling, also a TV journalist who reported from North Korea in 2005, said.
Laura Ling and Lee stand trial Thursday, accused of entering North Korea illegally and engaging in "hostile acts." If convicted, they could land in one of North Korea's notoriously grim labor camps.
In a separate interview on ABC's Nightline, Lisa Ling said she did not know much about the trial.
"We're told that they're going to have a lawyer appointed to them from North Korea," she said. "We are hoping and praying . . . that they get a fair trial and when they conclude the trial they will show mercy and let the girls come home to their families."
The families have posted letters to Facebook and supported the candlelight vigils set to take place in cities across the United States as the women go to trial in Pyongyang.
- Associated Press