WORLD leaders sought a unified response yesterday to North Korea’s latest provocation as the communist regime made final preparations for a controversial rocket launch and Japan braced for the possibility of falling debris.
With tensions already high, the North ratcheted up its militaristic rhetoric, threatening a “thunderbolt of fire” if Japan were to try to intercept the multistage rocket and warning US ships — dispatched to monitor the launch — to back off or risk getting hit, too.
North Korea says it will send a communications satellite into orbit sometime between tomorrow and next Wednesday. The US, South Korea and Japan think the reclusive country is using the launch to test long-range missile technology; they have warned the move would violate a UN Security Council resolution banning the North from ballistic activity.
The issue was top of the agenda when President Barack Obama met yesterday with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in London. Obama pledged to push for “peace and stability”, while Lee’s office issued a statement saying the two leaders agreed to keep working on a verifiable dismantling of North Korea’s worrisome nuclear programmes.
“They agreed on the need for a stern, united response from the international community if North Korea launches a long-range rocket, and to work together in the course of that,” the statement added.
While Russia appeared to be edging closer to Washington’s position in an apparent show of goodwill, a strong united response likely would prove difficult given that China — the North’s closest ally — has veto power in the Security Council. Beijing continued to urge all sides to show restraint to avoid making the situation worse.
CNN television said on its website that Pyongyang has started to fuel the rocket.
The report, citing an unidentified senior US military official, said the move indicates final preparations for the launch. Experts say the missile can be fired about three to four days after fuelling begins.
A senior US defence official in Washington said he was not sure the report was correct.
“It’s frankly unclear whether fuelling operations have begun; the intelligence is ambiguous,” the official said on condition of anonymity because it concerned intelligence.”
Japanese and South Korean officials also could not confirm the report.
US lawmakers are urging Obama to shoot down the rocket if it endangers the United States or its allies. But US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the US had no plans to intercept the rocket though it might consider it if an “aberrant missile” were headed to Hawaii “or something like that”.
The North is warning against any efforts to intercept the rocket, take the issue to the Security Council or even monitor the launch.
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