North Korea has started fueling a long-range rocket it plans to launch in the coming days, a senior national space official said Wednesday.
Fueling of the rocket, which North Korea says will put a satellite in orbit, is under way and will be completed at the "appropriate time," said Paek Chang Ho, head of the North Korean General Satellite Control and Command Center.
He declined to be more specific.
The announcement last month of the satellite launch -- which countries like the United States and South Korea see as a cover for a ballistic missile test -- ratcheted up tensions in the region and prompted Washington to suspend a recent deal to supply food aid to the North.
The launch of the rocket is scheduled to take place between Thursday and Monday, and countries in the region are on edge.
Japan has deployed missile defenses and says it will shoot down any part of the rocket that comes near its territory. South Korea has described the move as a "grave provocation" and says it will respond with "appropriate countermeasures."
"This launch will give credence to the view that North Korean leaders see improved relations with the outside world as a threat to the existence of their system," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a speech Tuesday. "And recent history strongly suggests that additional provocations may follow."
A recent report from South Korean intelligence officials claimed that North Korea is planning a new nuclear test in the area where it staged previous atomic blasts.
The South Korean intelligence report noted that the two previous rocket launches that Pyongyang said were intended to put satellites into orbit were followed a few weeks or months later by nuclear tests.
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