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SEOUL: North Korea yesterday extended the window for its planned rocket launch by one week due to technical problems but stressed it was pushing on with the mission in the face of international condemnation.
A day after announcing a review of the original December 10-22 launch schedule, the Korean Committee of Space Technology said it was extending the window to December 29.
In a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, the committee said scientists and technicians were still “pushing forward” with preparations for the mission.
“They, however, found a technical deficiency in the first-stage control engine module of the rocket... and decided to extend the launch period,” the news agency said.
North Korea says the rocket launch is a peaceful mission aimed at putting a satellite into orbit.
The United States and its allies view it as a disguised ballistic missile test banned under UN resolutions prompted by the North’s nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
The window extension appeared to tally with South Korean media reports, citing government analysis of fresh satellite imagery, that North Korea was replacing a faulty component in the Unha-3 rocket.
In a separate report yesterday, the Chosun Ilbo — known for its comprehensive North Korean coverage — said a group of Iranian missile experts was in North Korea offering technical assistance for the planned launch.
The Iranians were invited after Pyongyang’s last long-range rocket launch in April ended in failure, the newspaper said, citing a Seoul government official.
“A car seen at the... launch site has been spotted driving back and forth from the accommodation facility nearby. It is believed to be carrying Iranian experts,” the official said.
Earlier this month, Japan’s Kyodo news agency quoted a western diplomatic source as saying Iran had stationed defence personnel in North Korea since October to strengthen cooperation in missile and nuclear development.
In Japan, the government said yesterday it was on full alert over North Korea’s planned rocket launch as a 13-day lift-off window opened, despite a suggestion from Pyongyang that it could delay the much-criticised move.
Japan has deployed missile defence systems to intercept and destroy the rocket if it looks set to fall on its territory.
“We are taking all possible measures for vigilance,” Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told reporters as he entered his office yesterday before the launch window opened at 7:00 am (2200 GMT Sunday).
Defence Minister Satoshi Morimoto said Tokyo would keep a close eye on developments despite the comments from North Korea. “We don’t think enough changes are occurring to change our posture,” he said.