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*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

N. Korea Prepares to Launch Rocket Amid Warnings from International Community

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amid strong warnings of sanctions from the international community, North Korea has been hurrying to complete its preparations for the launch of a long-range rocket which much of the world suspects is a guise to test intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

   North Korea has assembled all three stages of a long-range rocket on its launch pad, a South Korean official said on Dec. 5, the latest sign that preparations to fire off the rocket are in full swing.

   "North Korea is believed to have completed the installation of a long-range rocket on the launch pad" at the Dongchang-ri base in the country's northwest, a government official said on condition of anonymity. "Some workers are pulling out of the site."

   The North's completion of the assembly of all three stages of the rocket came a day or two earlier than South Korean authorities had expected. The South Korean military and other authorities had expected North Korea would complete the procedure on Dec. 6 or 7.

   The North is now expected to install support equipment, such as radar, cameras and measuring equipment before fueling the rocket. Should fueling take place over the weekend, the rocket is expected to be launched between Dec. 10-12, officials said.

   Pyongyang announced Saturday it will launch a long-range rocket between Dec. 10 and 22 to put what it calls a "working satellite" into orbit.

   The planned launch will be the North's second launch attempt under current leader Kim Jong-un, following a failed launch in April. Kim took power after his father's death last December.

   On Monday, North Korea notified the U.N. shipping agency, the International Maritime Organization, about the launch.

   Coordinates provided by Pyongyang showed the rocket's first stage would fall into the Yellow Sea between the Korean Peninsula and China, and the second stage drop-off would take place off the Philippines.

   South Korea and other countries concerned like the U.S. and Japan have issued strong warnings against the North's plan to launch the rocket, calling it a "highly provocative act" that will invite strong sanctions.

   South Korea has warned it will take North Korea to the U.N. Security Council and press for new sanctions if the rocket launch proceeds, though it is unclear whether China, the only major ally of the North, would agree to further sanctions.

   There have also been questions about the effectiveness of any additional sanctions on North Korea, a country that has been under a string of sanctions for decades. Widespread views are that new sanctions would be aimed at identifying and freezing secret North Korean bank accounts overseas.

   In 2005, the U.S. imposed similar financial sanctions on Pyongyang by blacklisting a bank in the Chinese territory of Macau with links to the North. That not only froze North Korean money held in Banco Delta Asia, but also scared away other global financial institutions from dealing with Pyongyang for fear they would also be blacklisted.

   The measure hit Pyongyang hard, and reports at the time said that North Korean officials had to carry around bags of cash for financial transactions because they were not able to use the international banking system.

   Seoul's chief nuclear envoy, Lim Sung-nam, flew to Washington on Dec. 4 (local time) for discussions on the issue with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts.

   Lim said he agreed with Ambassador Glyn Davies, Washington's top envoy on Pyongyang, and Shinsuke Sugiyama, Tokyo's point man on Pyongyang on the importance of joint efforts with China and Russia in trying to deter North Korea from carrying out a rocket launch.

   "(We) agreed to step up efforts so that China and Russia will join in efforts" to discourage Pyongyang from the launch, scheduled between Dec. 10 and 22," Lim told reporters after a meeting with Davies, and other State Department officials.

   Lim said he and Davies also had a brief trilateral meeting that involved Sugiyama, the director general of the Japanese foreign ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.

   Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations, expressed deep concern over the North's plan to fire the rocket and strongly urged Pyongyang to reconsider the plan.

   Ban told reporters in Doha, Qatar that it is an obvious violation of Resolution No. 1718 of the U.N. Security Council which bans any kind of launch using the ICBM technology.

   Meanwhile, North Korea has been in active preparations to launch a long-range missile, including inviting missile experts from abroad, senior military sources in Seoul said on Dec. 1.
In an attempt to correct errors that caused the failure in April, when the rocket broke apart shortly after liftoff, the communist country "has secretly pushed to invite foreign experts there, and an unidentified expert recently visited Pyongyang," a senior military official in Seoul said, requesting anonymity.

   In July 2011, two North Koreans were arrested in Ukraine on charges of trying to steal secret technical information about missile engines.

   "North Korea has stepped up activities for the planned launch. We've learned it is working on a booster and communication check at its Dongchang-ri launch site," a Seoul government source said, adding Pyongyang has "yet to erect the booster for the missile."

   Despite the international calls for a suspension and warnings, North Korea is likely to push ahead with its plan to launch the rocket.

   The planned rocket launch is "a kind of celebratory fireworks," to mark the first anniversary of its new leader, another senior government official here said.

   "The hurried attempt to launch the missile in the midst of winter seems to be caused by internal factors, rather than outside ones," he said. "By firing the rocket, the North aims to parade its leader's achievements and strengthen the solidarity of its people," he said. The other source said North Korea also aims to use the rocket launch as a means to boost its leverage in its negotiations with the United States.