May 18, 2006

N.Korea may be preparing missile launch – reports

TOKYO (Reuters) - North Korea may be preparing to launch a
long-range Taepodong ballistic missile that could have the
capacity to reach all of the United States, Japanese national
broadcaster NHK reported on Friday.

Quoting unidentified South Korean government officials, NHK
said satellite pictures showed there have been signs since
early this month around a launch site in northeastern North
Korea that pointed to a possible firing in the near future.

South Korea's defense ministry said it could not confirm
the report. Japanese officials have not commented.

The missile appeared to be the Taepodong-2, which has the
longest range in North Korea's arsenal, and if it is a modified
version it may have a range of 15,000 km (9,300 miles), which
would cover all of the United States, NHK said.

Quoting Japanese government sources, Japan's Kyodo news
agency also said a launch could be imminent.

North Korea shocked the international community in August
1998 when it fired a Taepodong missile that flew over Japan
before falling into the Pacific Ocean.

The latest development comes amid a deadlock in six-party
talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs, and
ahead of a visit to China next week by the chief U.S.
negotiator to the multilateral talks.

The talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, Japan,
Russia and host China.

(Additional reporting by Jack Kim in Seoul)