David Guttenfelder, Associated Press
PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korean space officials said Tuesday that all assembly and preparations for this week's planned satellite launch have been completed, and denied it is a cover for a missile test.
Space officials told reporters at a news conference in Pyongyang that the launch of the three-stage rocket is on target to take place sometime between April 12-16 as part of centennial birthday commemorations for late President Kim Il Sung, the country's founder.
The Kwangmyongsong-3 communications satellite, equipped with a video camera designed to capture images of North Korea's terrain and send back data about weather conditions, was being mounted on the rocket Tuesday, said Ryu Kum Chol, deputy director of the Space Development Department of the Korean Committee for Space Technology.
"All the assembly and preparations of the satellite launch are done," he said.
The United States, Britain, Japan and others have urged North Korea to cancel the launch, saying it would be considered a violation of U.N. resolutions prohibiting the country from nuclear and ballistic missile activity.
Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to launch a long-range missile aimed at the U.S. and other targets. North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a warhead on a long-range missile.
Ryu acknowledged similarities between the rockets used for launching a satellite and a ballistic missile. However, he noted that solid fuel is used to launch ballistic missiles, while the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite will be sent using liquid fuel.
Also, in order to be a success, a ballistic missile would require a large payload, he said.
"Our satellite weighs 100 kilograms. For a weapon, a 100-kilogram payload wouldn't be very effective," he said, dismissing assertions that the launch is a cover for developing missile technology as "nonsense."
Ryu said he could not answer any questions about a possible nuclear test in the future.
On Sunday, North Korean space officials took a group of foreign reporters on a tour of the west coast launch site northwest of Pyongyang. All three stages of the Unha-3 rocket were visibly in position at the launch pad.
The United States says the launch would jeopardize a U.S.-North Korean agreement where Washington would provide Pyongyang with much-needed food aid in exchange for a freeze on nuclear activity, including a moratorium on long-range missile tests.t
A similar 2009 rocket launch was condemned by the U.N. Security Council. North Korea walked away from nuclear disarmament negotiations in protest, and conducted an atomic test weeks later that drew tightened U.N. sanctions.
Follow AP's Korea bureau chief for Pyongyang and Seoul at twitter.com/newsjean.
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