North Korea’s widely-condemned launch of a long-range rocket could happen within a matter of hours, after Pyongyang shortened and brought forward the start of the launch window tomorrow.
An updated notification sent by Pyongyang to UN agencies on Saturday—a copy of which was released by the South Korean government—said the launch would now take place between February 7-14.
The initial window announced by the North on Tuesday had been February 8-25.
The planned satellite launch has been slammed by the international community as a disguised ballistic missile test that amounts to another serious violation of UN resolutions, following the North’s nuclear test last month.
The brief updated notice sent by Pyongyang offered no reason for the date change.
“The Seoul government believes that (North Korea) completed its launch preparation, such as fuelling the rocket after erecting it on a launch pad after considering various circumstances,”South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted a defence ministry official as saying late Saturday.
South Korea’s military was on alert and ready to respond, Yonhap reported another ministry official as saying.
Any launch would now take place before the February 16 birthday of late leader Kim Jong-Il, the father of current leader Kim Jong-Un.
The North insists its space programme is purely scientific in nature, but the United States and allies, including South Korea, say its rocket launches are aimed at developing an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking the US mainland.
UN sanctions prohibit North Korea from any launch using ballistic missile technology.
While the prospective launch dates were changed, there was no amendment to the 7:00am-midday (2230-0330 GMT) daily window.
That means the rocket could blast off during the biggest annual US sports event of the year—the Superbowl, which kicks of at 8:00am Monday, Pyongyang time.
Predictions of an imminent launch have been bolstered by recent satellite images of fuel tankers at the Sohae satellite launch complex in northwestern North Korea.
The US and its allies have warned Pyongyang it would pay a heavy price for pushing ahead with the launch, but analysts say the North’s timing has been carefully calculated to minimise the repercussions.
With the international community still struggling to find a united response to the North’s January 6 nuclear test, the rocket launch—while provocative—is unlikely to substantially up the punitive ante.