SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has extended the window for a widely condemned long-range rocket launch by a week after discovering a “technical deficiency”, the isolated state’s news agency said on Monday.
The launch, viewed by the United States, Japan and South Korea as a test for developing a ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, had been scheduled for December 10-22 to coincide with the first anniversary of the death of former North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il.
“(Engineers) found a technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module of the rocket carrying the satellite and decided to extend the satellite launch period up to December 29,” the KCNA news agency quoted a space agency spokesman as saying.
North Korea is banned from carrying out any missile or nuclear-related tests by U.N. resolutions imposed in 2006 and 2009 after it conducted nuclear tests. A third rocket launch, in April, ended in failure.
The North insists this launch is aimed merely at putting a weather satellite into orbit. But it is believed to be developing an intercontinental missile with a range of more than 6,700 km which would have the capacity to hit the continental United States.
A South Korean news report said on Monday that the North was moving a new rocket component to its missile test site. A trailer carrying the component, believed to be a third-stage rocket, was seen by satellite on Saturday being moved from a missile plant in Pyongyang to the Tongchang-ri missile launch site, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper quoted a government source as saying.
Officials at South Korea’s intelligence service and the military declined to confirm the report, citing their policy of not commenting on intelligence matters.
It is impossible to verify events inside North Korea, which is one of the world’s most closed states that tightly controls news and information about its military and its leadership.
This launch was timed to mark the first anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il, although it also coincides with elections in North Korea’s historically bitter foes, South Korea and Japan.
Japan has installed a missile interceptor at its Defence Ministry headquarters in case the rocket goes astray, a procedure that has become routine ahead of North Korean rocket launches. The planned flight path does not go near Japan.
The April launch failed minutes after blast off, something the North owned up to in a rare admission of failure.
Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Nick Macfie