N Korea begins fuelling rocket with ‘help from Iran’
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North Korea has begun fuelling a long-range rocket and could launch it by the weekend, said CNN, with the United States and others threatening punishment for a move they say violates UN resolutions.
North Korea's rocket launch is most likely to succeed, thanks to technical cooperation with Iran to fix earlier glitches, experts said on Wednesday.
Pyongyang has said it will send a satellite into orbit between April 4 and 8.
The US and its Asian allies say this is a pretext to test a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, which could in theory reach Alaska or Hawaii. The Taepodong-2 failed after 40 seconds when first tested in July 2006. Iran sent its own communications satellite into orbit on February 2, using a domestically-made rocket.
"After the successful launch of the Iranian space launch vehicle, it is believed that the causes of the previous failure of Taepodong-2 have been removed," Kim Byung-Yong, a researcher at the state-funded Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said in a report presented at a conference in Seoul.
Senior US military officials quoted by CNN said the fuelling indicates the rocket could be ready to launch by the weekend.
A US official said after a meeting between US President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on the sidelines of the G20 in London, it looked like North Korea would proceed with the launch, but Washington was trying to persuade Pyongyang to stop.
The two leaders agreed the launch will violate Security Council resolutions, the unnamed senior US official said. "We have been making maximum efforts to try to dissuade them and still hope that they may change their minds," the official said.
Japan has sent missile-intercepting ships along the rocket's flight path and said it could shoot down any debris such as falling booster stages that threatens to strike its territory.
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