U.S. officials say North Korea may be nearing rocket launch

Airbus Defense & Space and 38 North satellite image of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in North Korea. (Reuters)

Satellite images taken this week of North Korea’s Sohae rocket launch site show apparent fueling activity seen in the past shortly before a rocket launch, a U.S. think-tank said, as U.S government officials signaled that a launch could occur as early as Monday.

North Korea has told U.N. agencies it will launch a rocket carrying what it called an earth observation satellite sometime between Feb. 8 and Feb. 25, triggering international opposition from governments that see it as a long-range missile test.

On Friday, U.S. government sources said U.S. intelligence agencies believed North Korea could be ready by the U.S. Super Bowl kickoff on Sunday, which will be Monday in Korea. Activity at the site was consistent with a launch in the time frame given by Pyongyang, U.S. officials said.

U.S. Pacific Command said it was closely monitoring the situation and had many missile defense assets in the region that would provide “a robust defense.”

“No one should doubt that U.S. Pacific Command forces are prepared to protect the American homeland and defend our allies in South Korea and Japan,” said Pacific Command spokesman U.S. Navy Captain Cody Chiles.

Commercial satellite images from Wednesday and Thursday show the arrival of tanker trucks at the launch pad, said Washington-based 38 North, a North Korea-monitoring project. It said the presence of the trucks likely indicated the filling of tanks within bunkers at the site rather than a rocket itself.

“In the past, such activity has occurred one to two weeks prior to a launch event and would be consistent with North Korea’s announced launch window,” the group said.

Last Update: 06:18 KSA 09:18 - GMT 06:18