L (AFP) - North Korea appears to have begun assembling a rocket, which it claims will launch a satellite, a report said Friday, despite US and South Korean warnings to halt what they see as a planned missile test.
"It appears that (the North) has begun assembling the rocket on the ground," Seoul's Yonhap news agency quoted a government source as saying.
A US envoy will make an Asian tour next week to try to revive stalled talks on the North's nuclear disarmament and agree on a strategy to deter any missile launch, officials in Washington said Thursday.
The North could finish preparations in a week or two but the launch may come in late March or early April "considering the North's political schedule and the situation on the Korean peninsula", the source was quoted as saying.
A joint US-South Korean military exercise which Pyongyang fiercely opposes is scheduled for March 9-20 and a US-South Korea summit is likely in early April on the sidelines of the April 2 G-20 meeting, Yonhap noted.
Earlier, the agency and Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that the communist state has apparently begun testing radar and other equipment at its launch site at Musudan-ri on the northeast coast.
The North says it is determined to go ahead with what it calls a peaceful satellite launch but has given no date.
"We will launch a satellite as planned," Kim Myong-Gil, a Pyongyang envoy to the United Nations, told South Korean journalists in Atlanta on Thursday.
"Launching a satellite is part of a sovereign right which is universal. We've been exercising our sovereign right and will continue to do so. This cannot be negotiable," Kim was quoted as saying.
Seoul and Washington say it is seeking a pretext to test a Taepodong-2 missile which could theoretically reach Alaska, and that a rocket launch for any purpose would violate a UN resolution passed after the last missile test.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Stephen Bosworth, her new special envoy to the North, would visit Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow next week "to convince North Korea to become a constructive part of the international community".
Bosworth will discuss ways to revive nuclear disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Outgoing chief US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill said Bosworth would also discuss ways to deter any missile launch.
South Korea says it will regard any launch as a missile test, and Hill was also sceptical about the North's "space development" programme.
"The North Koreans talk about it being a satellite launch," Hill told reporters. "You can see that it looks an awful lot like a missile launch."
He said Clinton spoke by telephone with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan on "what the best way would be to deter this launch".
"We're trying to figure out a way forward and part of Ambassador Bosworth's trip will be to continue that process," Hill added.
The North tested an atomic weapon in 2006 but it is unclear whether it can yet manufacture a nuclear warhead.
It test-launched a Taepodong-1 missile in 1998 from Musudan-ri and fired a longer-range Taepodong-2 in 2006 from the same site.
Taepodong-1, which Pyongyang claims put its first satellite into orbit, overflew Japan and fell into the Pacific, sparking international condemnation. The Taepodong-2 failed after 40 seconds but resulted in UN sanctions.