SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has moved a long-range rocket to a northwestern site in preparation for a launch next month, South Korean officials said Sunday, as Pyongyang pushes ahead with a plan that Washington calls a cover for testing its long-range missile delivery system.
North Korea announced earlier this month that it would launch a satellite into space using a long-range rocket as part of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the April 15 birth of
late President Kim Il Sung. The United States has warned that the launch, slated for mid-April, would jeopardize a recent deal to ship U.S. food aid to the North in exchange for a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests.
The launch is expected to dominate sideline discussions by U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders from nearly 60 countries and international organizations who are gathering in Seoul this week for a two-day nuclear security summit.
Washington says North Korea's rocket launches are a cover to test delivery systems for long-range missiles it hopes to mount with nuclear weapons that could target Alaska and beyond.
In a pointed statement, Obama visited the tense border separating the Koreas hours after landing in South Korea on Sunday.
North Koreans, meanwhile, marked the end of the 100-day mourning period following Kim Jong Il's December death with tributes to the late leader.
Son and heir Kim Jong Un presided over a memorial service and gun salute in Pyongyang as North Koreans across the country observed a noon observation in silence in Kim Jong Il's memory.
In northwestern North Korea, the main body of a long-range rocket was transported to a building in the village of Tongchang-ri in North Phyongan Province, the South Korean Defense Ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff officials said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department rules. The officials provided no further details and cited the South Korean and U.S. militaries for the information.
The Tongchang-ri site is about 35 miles (50 kilometers) from the Chinese border city of Dandong, across the Yalu River from North Korea. Analysts describe it is a new, more sophisticated site that would allow the North to fire the rocket from the west coast to avoid sending it over other countries.
North Korea said the launch of a satellite was a scientific endeavor.
In 2009, the U.N. Security Council condemned North Korea's last long-range rocket launch.
Pyongyang responded by abandoning six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and, weeks later, carried out a nuclear test, its second.
On Sunday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key urged North Korea to cancel the planned launch, calling it a serious threat to regional peace according to Lee's office.
The nuclear summit follows up on one held two years ago in Washington and is meant to find ways to keep nuclear weapons and material from getting in the hands of terrorists.
Associated Press writer Pak Won Il contributed to this report from Pyongyang, North Korea.