North Korea Poised to Test Fire Long-Range Missile

February 3, 2009, Moscow -- Pyongyang is preparing to test fire a long-range missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead as far afield as the U.S., South Korean media reported on Tuesday.

The Yonhap news agency quoted a defense source in Seoul as saying U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials had recently identified a North Korean train carrying what was believed to be a Taepodong-2 missile. The source said that this could indicate the likelihood of a launch taking place in a month or two.

The Taepodong-2 has a range of up to 6,000 km (3,700 miles) and could therefore, in theory, reach the west coast of the U.S.

A Taepodong-2 missile, which can carry a payload of up to 500 kilograms, was last test launched in July 2006, a few months before the isolated communist state tested a nuclear bomb, although it reportedly malfunctioned 40 seconds into the flight.

"This new missile is likely to be an upgraded one," said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea studies professor at Dongguk University in Seoul, "We could even call it a Taepodong-3 missile."

The intelligence report of an imminent missile launch came after a U.S. expert told Yonhap that the North had nearly completed the construction of a new rocket-launch facility.

"I understand North Korea could launch a rocket from the facility as early as this spring if the Paektusan-2, more commonly known as the Taepodong-2, is ready for testing," Daniel Pinkston, a senior analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, was cited as saying on January 29. (RIA Novosti)

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