Seoul expects sudden NKorean long-range missile launch
 By Alex Jensen

South Korea said Thursday it was “keeping close tabs” on any signs of a long-range missile launch in North Korea, as the reclusive state has reportedly been making preparations at one of its recognized launch sites.

“North Korea is likely to do it abruptly,” admitted Seoul’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok at a briefing, although he stressed that Pyongyang was yet to declare a requisite no-sail zone.

Not that such a declaration would offer legitimacy to an act that much of the world would view as a provocation.

North Korea is barred under United Nations resolutions from developing the kind of missile technology that would enhance its nuclear threat – members of the UN Security Council have already been debating the best path forward following this month’s fourth ever nuclear test by the North.

Japan’s Kyodo News reported earlier Thursday that Pyongyang could fire a missile from its recently expanded Dongchang-ri launch pad as soon as next week, based on a government source citing satellite imagery.

The North’s efforts to expand the range of its projectiles may be seen as part of a wider picture to strengthen its weapon capabilities – Pyongyang said this month’s nuclear test involved a hydrogen bomb, while it has also been openly developing submarine-launched ballistic missile technology.

Any repeat of North Korea’s claimed satellite launch in 2012 would fuel concerns that the United States’ mainland is within Pyongyang’s range.

Washington is a consistent target for the North’s notoriously aggressive rhetoric given the presence of nearly 30,000 American military personnel in South Korea.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been in China this week to discuss punishing North Korea, with Beijing viewed as a key player in any plan to rein in Pyongyang.

China, a traditional ally of the North, has been reluctant to commit to tougher sanctions than those already in place.

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