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Clouds, Wind May Explain North Korea's Wait on Rocket Launch

  • Kurt Achin

North Korea has decided to hold back on launching a long-range rocket, on the first day of an announced five-day launch window. Weather was a likely factor.

Clouds and gusty winds near the North Korean launch site are widely seen as the reason Pyongyang hesitated sending its rocket into space Saturday. Earlier in the day the North's official news agency said preparations were nearly complete and the launch would take place "soon."

However, South Korea's Yonhap news agency quotes unnamed defense officials who say the North did not even turn on radar systems that would immediately precede any launch.

North Korea advised international agencies last month it would send a "communications satellite" into space sometime between April 4 and 8. The United States, South Korea, and Japan view the launch as a provocative test of the North's longest range rocket, potentially capable of reaching as far as the western United States.

Dozens of protesters gathered for a second consecutive day in the South Korean capital to condemn the launch.

South Korea has diverted flights and shipping out of the expected path of the rocket, which is expected to pass from northeastern North Korea over the northern tip of Japan. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak chaired several hours of emergency meetings with top ministers Saturday to oversee those and other safety measures.

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun says Seoul is taking extra steps to safeguard a small number of South Korean citizens visiting and working in North Korea.

He says South Koreans in the North have been told to avoid unnecessary contact with North Koreans, and to be cautious about what they do and say. He says South Koreans should also keep movement to a minimum and not go out at night.

South Korea, the United States, and Japan are expected to make the case at the United Nations Security Council that a North Korean launch violates a resolution passed after the North's 2006 nuclear test. However, China and Russia may hesitate to support any new sanctions against the North, because Pyongyang has described this launch purely in terms of a universal right to peaceful space research.

A long-range rocket launched by the North in 2006 fell back to earth seconds into the flight. To avoid a repeat of that failure, the North is believed to be waiting for the most ideal weather possible. Forecasters say the skies will be slightly more favorable Sunday, and even better on Monday.