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Weather improving for N. Korea missile test, sources say

Possible U.S. interception plan spelled out

From Barbara Starr
Protesters burn a North Korean flag during a demonstration in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday.




North Korea
United States
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Weather conditions would be favorable for North Korea to test its long-range ballistic missile this weekend, several military sources said Friday.

The sources, who are not authorized to speak publicly, also said U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has signed an order that spells out how the United States would launch an interceptor missile if the North Korean missile appeared to be on a trajectory toward any U.S. territory or interests.

Clouds covered the missile's launch site for much of this week, possibly delaying any launch plans, but the U.S. military sources said clear weather and favorable upper atmospheric conditions were forecast for the weekend. (Watch how U.S. is on guard for a North Korean launch -- 2:02)

Fears have grown in recent weeks following reports of activity at a site in northeastern North Korea where U.S. officials say a Taepodong-2 missile -- believed capable of reaching parts of the United States -- is possibly being fueled.

One official said Friday that North Korea is continuing activities "indicating a launch," although he emphasized no new indicators have been seen in the past couple of days.

The United States, Japan and other countries are concerned about North Korea's reported preparations for a long-range missile test. The North Koreans fired a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan in 1998, but declared a moratorium on future tests in 1999.

In the past week, however, North Korean officials have said they no longer feel bound to that moratorium because they are not engaged in direct negotiations with the United States.

President Bush warned North Korea on Wednesday it would face further isolation if it violated agreements by test launching the missile. (Full story)

"The North Koreans have made agreements with us in the past, and we expect them to keep their agreements," Bush said during a news conference at the end of a European Union summit.

"It should make people nervous when non-transparent regimes, that have announced that they've got nuclear warheads, fire missiles," Bush said. "This is not the way you conduct business in the world. This is not the way that peaceful nations conduct their affairs."

If there is a launch by North Korea, the United States is facing three options, officials said: do nothing; fire an interceptor missile to destroy the North Korean missile; fire and miss. Watch how the U.S. could try to shoot down missile -- 1:18)

Word of any North Korean launch is expected to come quickly from Asia, and the Bush administration would plan to make a statement to the world within an hour of launch, one official said.

In the event of a launch, the U.S. military would have just a few minutes to make a recommendation to Bush about a course of action.

And U.S. military response would come only if it is determined through multiple technological means that the missile is on an attack trajectory.

The missile could be determined to be on a trajectory indicating a satellite launch, in which case, it would not be deemed a threat.

In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Vice President Dick Cheney said the missile has a third stage, which is an indication it is configured for a satellite trajectory, even though this test missile may only be carrying an instrumentation package. (Read Cheney's comments on North Korea)

The initial "boost" phase of the North Korean missile would last perhaps three to five minutes, according to a Pentagon official.

The U.S. system is designed to try to hit the attacking missile in the 20-minute 'mid-course' phase so any decision to strike would have to be made within minutes.

Under the order signed by Rumsfeld, all available information would be continuously shared so the president could make a decision whether to fire.

Officials say that in an extreme emergency there are other high-level officials -- whom they would not specify -- who could order a U.S. retaliatory strike, but realistically, they say, the decision would most likely be made by President Bush.

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