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North Korea missile consistent with satellite: U.S.
Tue Mar 31, 2009 9:37pm EDT
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By David Morgan and Jonathan Thatcher
WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) - A missile North Korea could launch as soon as this weekend appears to have a bulb-shaped tip that gives credence to Pyongyang's claim it plans to put a satellite in space, U.S. defense officials said on Tuesday.
Washington and others have voiced concern the launch will be a test of a long-range missile that could carry a warhead as far as U.S. territory. Pyongyang's plans have alarmed the region and intensified pressure on the North not to launch its Taepodong-2. A Taepodong-2 test in 2006 failed.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the launch, which North Korea says will occur between April 4 and 8, would deal a blow to six-party talks to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
Further stoking tensions, North Korea said on Tuesday it would put on trial two U.S. journalists arrested this month on its border with China.
The reclusive state accused the two female reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee from the U.S.-based media outlet Current TV, of unspecified "hostile acts."
"The illegal entry of U.S. reporters into the DPRK (North Korea) and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements, according to the results of intermediary investigation conducted by a competent organ of the DPRK," North Korea's KCNA news agency said.
U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a commercial satellite image of the Musudan-ri missile test site showed a Taepodong-2 missile with a bulb-shaped payload cover, consistent with a satellite payload, rather than a warhead.
The image was posted on Sunday on the website of the Institute for Science and International Security, or ISIS, a Washington-based group devoted to informing the public on security issues including nuclear weapons.
The bulb shape is similar to the nose cone standard for military and commercial satellite launches, concluded officials, including analysts at the U.S. Air Force's National Air and Space Intelligence Center in Dayton, Ohio.
"They probably are launching a satellite. But the issue is that the steps they're going through to do that run parallel to them being able to have other capabilities," senior ISIS analyst Paul Brannan said.
One Seoul-based analyst said intelligence reports indicated North Korea appeared to have built nuclear warheads for its mid-range Rodong missiles, which can reach Japan.
"I have some intelligence assessments that indicate they have assembled nuclear warheads for Rodong missiles," said Daniel Pinkston, an analyst with the nongovernmental International Crisis Group. "No one can know this with 100 percent accuracy."
A U.S. official who spoke on condition he not be identified cast doubt on the report, saying, "I know of zero evidence to support that contention."
Many proliferation experts believe the North, whose only nuclear test in 2006 was seen as a partial success, does not have the technology to miniaturize a nuclear device for a warhead. It might be able to place a biological or a dirty bomb, where radiation is spread through conventional explosives. Continued...
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