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N. Korea defends right to 'explore space' amid missile claim

  • Story Highlights
  • N. Korea: "Outer space is not a monopoly of a few specified powers"
  • North Koreans have said they intend to launch a communications satellite
  • U.S. Secretary of State Clinton says U.S. has no plans to shoot rocket down
  • Taepodong 2 rocket could launch either a warhead or a satellite
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(CNN) -- North Korea defended Thursday its right to explore outer space after reports that a rocket, believed by the United States to be a long-range missile, had been positioned on its launch pad.

Replicas of South and North Korean missiles are displayed at the Korea War Memorial in Seoul.

Replicas of South and North Korean missiles are displayed at the Korea War Memorial in Seoul.

North Korea recently informed a pair of U.N. agencies that it plans to launch a satellite. The launch is believed to be slated for sometime between April 4 to 8, according to Yonhap, South Korea's state-sponsored news agency.

North Korea's announcement has triggered international consternation. U.S. and South Korean officials have long said the North is actually preparing to test-fire a long-range missile under the guise of a satellite launch.

Pyongyang lashed out against critics on Thursday in a commentary reported in the state-run KCNA news service.

"This is nothing but a groundless outcry of the political philistines ignorant of any legality of the study of space science for peaceful purposes," the commentary said.

"Outer space is not a monopoly of a few specified powers but an asset common to mankind and the space development is promoted worldwide at present." Should anyone have the right to explore space?

The United States has no plans to shoot down the North Korean rocket, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday in an interview with CNN's Jill Dougherty, but will raise the issue with the U.N. Security Council if Pyongyang carries out a launch.

"We are doing our best to dissuade the North Koreans from going forward, because it is provocative action," Clinton said. "It raises questions about their compliance with the Security Council Resolution 1718. And if they persist and go forward, we will take it up in appropriate channels."

North Korea is technically capable of launching a rocket in as little as two to four days, according to Kim Taewoo, an expert at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, but who doubts a launch will come that soon.

It would not make sense for Pyongyang to make such a move after going through official channels with its plans, Kim said.

"The North could delay the launch if they experience problems with the weather, or within the leadership, but I don't see any reason why they would fire it ahead of time," Kim said.

What the North Koreans would be testing may not be known until an actual launch, U.S. officials have said.

A U.N. Security Council resolution in 2006 banned North Korea from conducting ballistic missile activity. Japanese officials said they could shoot down the object whether it is a missile or a satellite.

"As the U.N. resolutions prohibit (North Korea) from engaging in ballistic missile activities, we still consider it to be a violation of a technical aspect, even if (the North) claims it is a satellite. We will discuss the matter with related countries based on this view," Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said this month.

South Korea echoed Clinton's statements.

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"The South Korean government believes that if the North conducts its launch despite continuous warnings of the South Korean government and the international community, it is a provocative action that constitutes a serious threat to the security of northeast Asia and the Korean peninsula," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-Young. "The launching of the long-range rocket is a clear violation of the U.N. Security Council Resolution No. 1718, and we strongly urge North Korea to immediately stop such measures."

The North Korean Taepodong-2 missile is thought to have an intended range of about 6,700 kilometers (4,200 miles) that -- if true -- could strike Alaska or Hawaii.

-- CNN's Pam Benson contributed to this report.

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