WASHINGTON The United States has seen increased activity around a North Korean site suggesting preparations for a possible space launch in the near future, U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday.
The officials cited intelligence suggesting movement of components and propellant, adding the United States believed a test could take place even within a couple of weeks.
"Our concern though is ... it's the same technology to develop ICBMs" (inter-continental ballistic missiles), one of the officials said.
U.N. Security Council members were discussing fresh sanctions against North Korea after it conducted its fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6. The Pyongyang government is already under sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea last conducted a long-range rocket launch in late 2012, successfully putting into orbit an object it claimed was a communications satellite. Western and Asian experts said it was part of an effort to build an inter-continental ballistic missile.
Earlier on Thursday, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported North Korea may be preparing to launch a long-range missile as soon as within a week.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok declined to comment on whether there were pre-launch activities at the site, citing a policy of not discussing intelligence matters.
He said North Korea had issued no international warnings on navigation, however, as it has ahead of previous long-range rocket launches.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned during a trip to China this week of the dangers of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's pursuit of an ICBM, particularly given its declared intention to develop one with the capacity to carry a nuclear warhead.
"This is threat to any nation in the world, but particularly we in the United States understand what his purpose is and therefore it is a threat the United States must take extremely seriously," Kerry told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday.
"The United States will do what is necessary to protect people in our country and our friends and allies in the world," Kerry said.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Beijing, Ju-min Park and Jack Kim in Seoul; Editing by Susan Heavey and Grant McCool)
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