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N. Korea preps for satellite launch amid 'space development' claim

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  • U.S. satellite captured images of launch preparations, senior official said
  • North Korea's explanation cryptic: "One will come to know later what will be launched"
  • Country's right to "space development" rejected by South Korea
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(CNN) -- Denying recent intelligence suggesting it is preparing to test a long-range missile, North Korea signaled Monday it is gearing up to launch a satellite, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks Monday at Haneda Airport after arriving in Tokyo, Japan.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks Monday at Haneda Airport after arriving in Tokyo, Japan.

A senior U.S. official told CNN last week that an American spy satellite had snapped an image of preparations at a North Korean site previously used to launch Taepodong-2 missiles.

The photograph shows North Korea assembling telemetry equipment involving sophisticated electronics used to monitor missile launches, the official said, adding there was no direct evidence that a missile was being moved to the launch pad.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Monday it will go ahead with its "space development" program, Yonhap said, adding that the report is a possible message to Washington ahead of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Seoul, South Korea, this week. Video Watch Hillary Clinton board her flight to Asia »

"One will come to know later what will be launched in the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea]," KCNA said, according to Yonhap, but it denied a missile test is planned. "Space development is the independent right of the DPRK and the requirement of the developing reality," KCNA said, calling outside reports a "vicious trick" aimed at stopping the nation's sovereign activity, Yonhap reported.

The reclusive North Korean regime made a similar claim after launching a rocket in 1998, saying it succeeded in putting a satellite into orbit, Yonhap said.

U.S. intelligence officials initially said after the August 1998 test that North Korea launched a two-stage Taepodong-1 missile, but later said it was a three-stage missile, and the third stage broke up in an unsuccessful attempt to put a small satellite into orbit.

South Korea rejected the North Korean claim that it has a right to space development, with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan saying at a parliamentary session, "Whether it is a missile or a satellite, [a launch] would constitute a violation of the U.N. Security Council's Resolution 1718," Yonhap reported Monday.

That resolution, adopted in October 2006, imposed sanctions against North Korea -- and demanded it stop nuclear activity and missile testing -- after it launched a Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile. The missile failed 40 seconds after launch, but the Taepodong-2 is believed to have an intended range of about 2,500 miles (about 4,025 kilometers), making it capable of striking Alaska.

Asked about the matter last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates would only say, "Well, since the first time that they launched the missile it flew for a few minutes before crashing, the range of the Taepodong-2 remains to be seen. So far, it's very short. I'm not going to get into intelligence reports, but it would be nice if North Korea would focus on getting positive messages across ... to its negotiating partners about verification and moving forward with the denuclearization."

North Korea has been involved on and off in what is known as the six-party talks with the United States, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.

Clinton left for Asia on Sunday on her first overseas trip as secretary of state, and is scheduled to travel to Japan, China, South Korea and Indonesia to discuss a range of issues, including mutual economic recovery, trade, the prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation and reversing global warning. Her trip represents a departure from a diplomatic tradition under which the first overseas trip by the secretary of state of a new administration is to Europe.

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Speaking at the New York-based Asia Society before her departure, Clinton called North Korea's nuclear program "the most acute challenge to stability in northeast Asia."

She said the Obama administration is prepared to seek a permanent, stable peace with Pyongyang so long as its regime pursues disarmament and does not engage in aggression against South Korea.

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