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North Korea's next move: long-range missile tests?

Satellite photos show activity at a testing site, say US officials. A successful launch would signal progress toward a nuclear weapons arsenal.

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Following its underground nuclear test earlier this week, North Korea may be planning another show of defiance to the world: the test of a long-range ballistic missile.

US satellite photos have showed increased vehicle activity at a North Korean site previously used for intercontinental ballistic missile testing, according to US officials in Washington, speaking May 29 on the condition of anonymity.

Pyongyang already has followed up the nuclear test with a spasm of short-range missile launches into the sea surrounding the Korean peninsula.

"They clearly have decided that now that they have provoked the outside world anyway, they might as well do everything they had been holding up until now," says Chaibong Hahm, a senior political scientist and expert on the North Korean regime at RAND Corp., in Santa Monica, Calif.

The short-range missile launches – six so far this week – count more as a political expression of displeasure. But a test of a long-range missile would be something more serious, as North Korea is still struggling to perfect the technology for such a weapon.

An April 5 launch of a Taepodong-2 long-range missile that North Korea said was intended to place a satellite in orbit was a failure. While the first stage worked properly, and separated from the rest of the rocket once its fuel was expended, the second and third stages never separated.


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