More international warnings and naval deployments are leading up to North Korea's planned launch of a long-range missile. South Korea defense chiefs say the launch would violate international law, and Japan is expected to issue a ready order to shoot the North's rocket down.
South Korea's Defense Ministry reacted to new intelligence Thursday that North Korea has apparently stood a rocket up on a launch pad, making its liftoff imminent.
Ministry Spokesman Won Tae-jae says South Korea urges the North to stop the missile launch, which would be a clear violation of a United Nations Resolution.
Intelligence officials say satellite photos show an object believed to be a long-range rocket standing up at an advanced North Korean facility in the country's northeast. Pyonygang has said the rocket will lift off, carrying what it says will be a communications satellite, between April 4 and April 8.
The United States and its regional partners believe the launch is aimed at bolstering North Korea's ability to send long-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching as far as western U.S. territory with warheads. Spokesman Won says the launch would be a provocation that poses a serious challenge to regional security.
He says South Korea's military is on alert, monitoring all of the North's launch preparation, in cooperation with the United States.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a defense official Thursday who says Seoul is deploying the country's first and only Aegis-class naval Destroyer to waters between Japan and North Korea to "monitor" the launch.
The United States and Japan are believed to have Aegis Destroyers in the region as well. Such ships have advanced radar and missile technology potentially capable of shooting down the North's rocket.
Washington has not ruled out attempting such a shootdown, and Japan is edging ever closer to explicit plans for such an attempt. Japan's Security Council is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss intercepting the North's rocket, expected to pass over Northern Japanese territory.
Chief Japanese Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura says the council is likely to approve an interception attempt. He says a shootdown order is expected to be issued before April 4, the earliest launch date announced by the North.
Japan, the United States, and South Korea have all vowed to seek new United Nations sanctions against the North if the launch takes place. However, permanent U.N. security council members Russia and China may choose to veto such a measure.
Park Seung-jae, a consultant to South Korea's Defense Ministry with the Asia Strategy Institute in Seoul, says even without U.N. sanctions, South Korea and Japan have options to punish the North.
He says a very effective option would be to deny Japanese and South Korean port access to any ships that have made a visit to North Korea. He says that would make even close trading partners of the North more hesitant to send vessels there.