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North Korea may be readying ICBM test

Preparations could be a 'bluff,' officials say

From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, center, may be trying to gain leverage in nuclear talks, officials say.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea appears to be preparing to test-launch a ballistic missile with the range to reach the United States mainland, U.S. and South Korean officials said Tuesday.

The officials said test preparations seemed fairly advanced for a North Korean launch of a Taepodong-2 missile, which can be used as a two- or three-stage "integrated" missile.

The three-stage version uses a solid-fuel booster rocket strapped to a Scud missile, giving it sufficient range to reach the U.S. West Coast.

One senior U.S. official said North Korea "is doing everything you would expect if you are going to launch a missile."

Some U.S. officials said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il could be bluffing to gain leverage in stalled six-party talks on ending the North Korean nuclear standoff.

Pyongyang has sometimes engaged in surprise behavior to attract international attention when it felt it was being ignored, and it might feel slighted over the U.S. focus on resolving the nuclear issue with Iran, they said.

But the senior U.S. official said, "There is reason to think they are doing it for show."

Lee Tae-sik, South Korean ambassador to the United States, said that while the preparations were "quite worrisome" it was best not to "make a conclusion" that the test would take place.

"We see the signs that [North Korea is] moving in that direction, yet we cannot rule out the possibility that at the last moment it will change its mind," Lee said.

A test of a Taepodong-2 missile would be North Korea's first long-range missile test since 1998, when Pyongyang surprised the world and sparked an international crisis by firing an intermediate-range missile over Japan.

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