US says N. Korea ready for missile launch by Monday

© KCNA
North Korea could be ready for a rocket launch by Monday, US officials said, as cited by Reuters. Images provided by a US think-tank showed numerous tanker trucks arriving at the launch pad at a local rocket launch site.

The information was revealed on Friday by US government sources, citing US intelligence agencies.

In response to the news, the US Pacific Command called on North Korea on Saturday to refrain from “irresponsible provocations.”

"No one should doubt that US Pacific Command forces, including US forces in Korea, are prepared to protect the American homeland and defend our allies in South Korea and Japan," command spokesman US Navy Captain Cody Chiles told the Yonhap News Agency.

38north.org

He added the US is aware of North Korea's announcement of an upcoming rocket launch and “are closely monitoring the situation.”

On Tuesday, North Korea told UN agencies that it will launch a space rocket carrying a satellite later this month. However, the country insisted the satellite would have a purely scientific function.

“We have received information from DPRK (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) regarding the launch of earth observation satellite 'Kwangmyongsong' between 8-25 February,” a spokeswoman for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) told Reuters.

A similar previous launch in 2012 was condemned by the US, South Korea and Japan. They said it was a long-range ballistic missile test in disguise.

Japan's Kyodo news cited government sources as saying North Korea had brought forward the start of the launch period and may start it on Sunday.

Also on Friday, 38 North, a site analyzing North Korea activity reported of possible preparations for the rocket launch. 

38north.org

“New commercial satellite imagery of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station (“Tongchang-dong”) from February 3 and 4 shows the arrival of tanker trucks at the launch pad, specifically at the old fuel/oxidizer bunkers,” the group said.

According to the think-tank, the presence of these tankers “more likely indicates the filling of fuel/oxidizer tanks within the bunkers than the fueling of the space launch vehicle (SLV).”

“In the past, such activity has occurred 1-2 weeks prior to a launch event.”

READ MORE: North Korea reveals plans for satellite launch later this month

The information about the controversial satellite launch comes just weeks after North Korea said it successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb. The news sparked international outrage and calls for new and stricter sanctions against the country.

Pyongyang started its nuclear program in the 1980s, but announced that it possessed nuclear weapons only in 2005. Since then, the nation carried out four nuclear tests – in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2016. The 2013 nuclear test led to UN Security Council’s sanctions, which restricted the county’s banking, trade, and travel.