SKorea: NKorea moves long-range rocket to site

HYUNG-JIN KIM Associated Press Published:

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea has moved a rocket to a northwestern site in preparation for a launch next month, South Korean officials said Sunday, as Pyongyang pushes ahead with a plan that Washington calls a cover for testing long-range missiles.

President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak urged North Korea to immediately stop its launch plans, warning in Seoul that they would deal sternly with any provocation. Obama said the move would jeopardize a deal for the U.S. to resume stalled food aid to the North.

"Bad behavior will not be rewarded," Obama said in a joint news conference with Lee. "There had been a pattern, I think, for decades in which North Korea thought if they had acted provocatively, then somehow they would be bribed into ceasing and desisting acting provocatively."

Earlier Sunday, Obama made a symbolic visit to the tense, heavily armed border dividing the Koreas, six decades years after the Korean War ended with a cease-fire that leaves the peninsula technically at war.

North Korea's launch preparations are expected to dominate high-level sideline discussions at an international nuclear security summit in Seoul set for Monday and Tuesday that Obama and other world leaders are attending. The moves come as North Koreans and new leader Kim Jong Un mark 100 days since the death of Kim's father, Kim Jong Il.

In northwestern North Korea, the main body of a long-range rocket was transported to a building in the village of Tongchang-ri in North Phyongan Province, the South Korean Defense Ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff officials said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with department rules. The officials provided no further details and cited the South Korean and U.S. militaries for the information.

The Tongchang-ri launch site is about 35 miles (50 kilometers) from the Chinese border city of Dandong, across the Yalu River from North Korea. Analysts describe it is a new, more sophisticated site that would allow the North to fire the rocket from the west coast to avoid sending it over other countries.

North Korea said the launch of a satellite is a scientific endeavor. The launch is set to happen during celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the April 15 birth of North Korea's late President Kim Il Sung, who was Kim Jong Il's father and the current leader's grandfather.

However, Lee said the launch violates "a U.S.-North Korea deal and is a provocative act that poses a threat to international peace and security."

He was referring to an agreement settled last month between Washington and Pyongyang, considered a breakthrough at the time, where the United States would ship food aid to the impoverished North in exchange for a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests.

Washington says North Korea's rocket launches are meant to test delivery systems for long-range missiles it hopes to mount with nuclear weapons that could target Alaska and beyond.

"President Obama and I agreed to continue to strengthen the Korea-U.S. combined defense posture and sternly deal with any provocation and threat by North Korea," Lee said.

North Koreans, meanwhile, paid their respects to Kim Jong Il, with tens of thousands gathering in Pyongyang's central square.

Kim Jong Un presided over a memorial service and gun salute in Pyongyang as North Koreans across the country observed a noon observation in silence in Kim Jong Il's memory. Citizens and soldiers lined up in rows, bowing their heads before a large portrait of Kim Jong Il flanked with wreaths of white flowers.

In 2009, the U.N. Security Council condemned North Korea's last long-range rocket launch.

Pyongyang responded by abandoning six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and, weeks later, carrying out a nuclear test, its second.

On Sunday, the South Korean president and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key urged North Korea to cancel the planned launch, calling it a serious threat to regional peace, according to Lee's office.

The nuclear summit follows up on one held two years ago in Washington and is meant to find ways to keep nuclear weapons and material from getting in the hands of terrorists.

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Associated Press writer Pak Won Il contributed to this report from Pyongyang, North Korea.