WASHINGTON  - North Korea has taken “additional steps” towards the launch of a long-range rocket despite international pressure against it, the Pentagon said Monday.
“We believe they’ve taken additional steps for a possible launch,” Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters, adding that any such test “would be a violation of North Korea’s international obligations.”
Pyongyang says the rocket launch is to put into space a satellite to mark the 100th birth anniversary of secretive Stalinist state’s founder Kim Il-Sung.
In an unprecedented move, North Korea on Sunday invited foreign journalists to the rocket launch site to try to persuade the world of its peaceful intentions.
The United States says the satellite launch is a cover for testing a long-range ballistic missile in defiance of UN resolutions and a US-North Korean agreement.
Meanwhile, the United States said Monday it is urging China to press North Korea in “the hours and days ahead” not to go ahead with a planned rocket launch, seen as a disguised missile test.
“We continue to encourage China to do all that it can. And we are hopeful they will continue to use their influence in the hours and days ahead,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
China is considered to have the most influence with North Korea as a member of the six-party nuclear disarmament talks that includes those two countries as well as the United States, Japan, South Korea and Russia.
“North Korea’s launch of a missile would be highly provocative, it would pose a threat to regional security, and it will be inconsistent with its recent undertakings to refrain from any kind of long-range missile launches,” she said.
She said the United States also considers such a launch as a violation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874.
“So we are continuing to make the point that it is a bad idea to do this,” Nuland said.
“We are also working with our six-party counterparts to try to make the same points to North Korea and to urge all of the countries in the six-party talks to use their influence with the DPRK (North Korea),” she said.
She singled out China when she appealed for it to use its influence in particular to halt the launch scheduled for sometime between April 12-16.
A South Korean official said the North appeared to be preparing to follow up the launch with a third nuclear weapons test, something Nuland said would be “equally bad if not worse.”