Seoul warned Monday that it might shoot down a North Korean rocket if it violated South Korean territory, as President Barack Obama joined 53 world leaders gathered there Monday for a nuclear security summit.
Worries about the launch — which Washington and Seoul say is meant to test delivery systems for long-range missiles that could carry nuclear weapons, but which Pyongyang claims are part of its peaceful space program — have overshadowed the talks.
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The Associated Press quoted Yoon Won-shik, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry as saying: "We are studying measures such as tracking and shooting down (parts) of a North Korean missile in case they stray out of their normal trajectory" and violate South Korean territory.
"We cannot help viewing [the launch] as a very reckless, provocative act" that undermines peace on the Korean peninsula, he reportedly added.
Japan has already threatened to shoot down the rocket using Aegis-class warships and PAC-3 surface to air missiles should it threaten Japanese territory.
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And a US official has warned Australia that the missile may be aimed at its shores, leading Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard — also attending the Seoul nuclear summit — to call on China, its biggest trading partner, to use regional influence to convince North Korea to abandon the launch.
US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell over the weekend said that the rocket may affect an area between Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The Fairfax Press quoted Gillard as saying: "North Korea needs to take a step back from this proposed launch. All nations, including those with more influence — including China — should be using that influence to get North Korea to step back."
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Ms Gillard also reassured Australians that North Korea was a long way from creating a nuclear weapon capable of reaching targets around the world, Fairfax reported.
North Korea, meantime, denies any country is threatened by the launch — scheduled for between 12 and 16 April to mark the 100th birthday of its late Great Leader Kim Il-sung — saying a new southerly flight path is meant to avoid other countries, the BBC reported.
According to the AP, South Korean and US military officials have said that North Korea moved the main body of the rocket into a building at a site near the village of Tongchang-ri in North Phyongan province and that it was making preparations for a launch.
Obama said North Korea could face more sanctions if it goes ahead with plans.
He also said a rocket launch would only increase North Korea's isolation, the BBC reported.
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