PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korean space officials said Tuesday that the rocket built to carry a satellite into space was ready for liftoff this week as the nation's leadership makes a series of appointments before a major political gathering.
Workers' Party delegates are scheduled to convene Wednesday for the fourth conference of North Korea's ruling political party, where new leader Kim Jong Un is expected to inherit titles once held by his father, the late Kim Jong Il.
North Korea's national flag and the red hammer-and-sickle flag of the Workers' Party fluttered across chilly Pyongyang on Tuesday as delegates toured historic sites, including the birthplace of late President Kim Il Sung. North Korea celebrates the 100th anniversary of his birth Sunday, a major milestone in the country he founded.
New posters in the capital welcomed the delegates from provincial towns across the country. Workers scrambled to spruce up the city were painting railings a military green and crouching along roads to plant flowers.
Space officials, meanwhile, told foreign journalists at a news conference that the launch of the three-stage rocket is on target to take place between Thursday and Monday as part of the centennial birthday commemorations for Kim Il Sung.
"All the assembly and preparations of the satellite launch are done," including fueling of the rocket, Ryu Kum Chol, deputy director of the Space Development Department of the Korean Committee for Space Technology, said at the briefing at the Yanggakdo Hotel.
The Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite, equipped with a camera designed to capture images of North Korea's terrain and send back data about weather conditions, was being mounted on the rocket Tuesday.
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 nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
Ryu dismissed assertions that the launch is a cover for developing missile technology, calling the accusations "nonsense."
Ryu said a missile launch would require more sophisticated technology, and would not take place from a fixed, openly visible station.
"No country in the world would want to launch a ballistic missile from such an open site," he said.
He said the U.N. space treaty guarantees every nation's right to develop its space program.
"We do not recognize any U.N. Security Council resolution that violates our national sovereignty," Ryu said. "I believe that the right to have a satellite is the universal right of every nation on this planet."
Kwangmyongsong means "bright, shining star," while Unha means "galaxy."
This week's satellite launch from a new facility in the hamlet of Tongchang-ri on North Korea's west coast would be the country's third attempt since 1998. Two previous rockets, also named Unha, were mounted with experimental communications satellites and sent from the east coast.
North Korean officials say the 2009 satellite reached orbit, citing Russian confirmation. But the U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command said Kwangmyongsong-2 did not make it into space, and shortly after the launch, the Interfax news agency quoted an unnamed senior Russian military official saying the same thing.
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