North Korea is fueling missile, U.S. military says

A satellite image shows a rocket sitting on its launch pad in the northeast of the country.
North Korea has begun fueling its long-range missile, according to a senior U.S. military official.

The fueling signals that the country could be in the final stages of what North Korea has said will be the launch of a satellite into space as early as this weekend, the senior U.S. military official said Wednesday. Other U.S. military officials said the top portion of the missile was put on very recently, but satellite imagery shows a shroud over the stage preventing a direct view of what it looks like. The officials said the satellite payload appears to have a “bulbous” cover, which could indicate that there is a satellite loaded on it. Such a cover protects a satellite from damage in flight. Although the sources did not know for sure what the payload is, they said there is no reason to doubt that it is a satellite, as indicated by North Korea. Pyongyang has said it will launch the missile between April 4 and April 8. A launch would violate a 2006 United Nations Security Council resolution banning the reclusive state from launching ballistic missiles.

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Pentagon officials worry less about the payload and more about the launch itself, saying that any kind of launch will give the North Koreans valuable information about improving their ballistic missile program. The United States believes that the North Koreans have the technology to hit Alaska or Hawaii with a ballistic missile and that the country is working on advancing that technology so it could hit the west coast of the United States.