North Korea has completed preparations for launching what it says is "an experimental communications satellite," the reclusive nation’s state news agency reported early Saturday.
“The satellite will be launched soon,” KCNA reported. How “soon” was anyone’s guess. On Friday, President Obama reiterated that the United States strongly opposes any such launch. “We have made it very clear to the North Koreans that their missile launch is provocative, it puts enormous strains on the Six-Party Talks and that they should stop the launch,” Obama said while on a stop in France. Obama warned that the United States will join with its allies to take “appropriate steps” to let North Korea know it can’t violate United Nations rules and get away with it. Western nations fear that North Korea plans a ballistic missile test rather than a satellite launch, but the administration’s special envoy to the Six-Party Talks, Stephen Bosworth, said it didn’t matter if the North Koreans were trying to put a satellite in space or testing a ballistic missile that could threaten Japan or the United States. “Whether it is a satellite launch or a missile launch, in our judgment makes no difference. It is a provocative act,” Bosworth said. Bosworth said the United States stands ready, in the event of a launch, to participate in U.N. deliberations on new sanctions against North Korea.
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A commentary carried by KCNA recently blasted critics for opposing its plans. “This is nothing but a groundless outcry of the political philistines ignorant of any legality of the study of space for peaceful purposes,” the commentary said. The U.S. Navy is monitoring the expected launch with at least four ships in the region around the Korean Peninsula and northern Japan, according to U.S. military officials. The ships — three destroyers and one cruiser — are capable of tracking and shooting down ballistic missiles using powerful Aegis radar systems aboard each vessel. Two ships are in the Sea of Japan, the USS Curtis Wilbur and the USS Stethem, both guided-missile destroyers. Two other ships are on the Pacific Ocean side of Japan to monitor the missile if it flies over that nation. Those ships are the USS Shiloh, a guided-missile cruiser and the USS Fitzgerald, another guided-missile destroyer, the officials said.
All four U.S. ships are working with Japanese naval ships in the same region that are also equipped with Aegis radar. Watch report on launch preparations » U.S. military officials say Pyongyang seems to still be on track to launch the missile as early as Saturday, but one official told CNN that winds strong enough to delay a launch are predicted for Saturday in the area of the launch site, in northeastern North Korea.