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North Korea Moves Up Rocket Launching Plan

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has rescheduled a planned rocket launching, now telling United Nations officials that it will launch the long-range rocket between Sunday and Feb. 14, the South Korean Defense Ministry said Saturday.

North Korea had earlier notified the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency responsible for navigation safety, that it planned to launch the rocket between Monday and Feb. 25 to put a satellite into orbit.

It said the launching would take place between the hours of 7 a.m. and noon local time.

In a notice sent out to reporters, the South Korean Defense Ministry said Saturday that North Korea had moved up the window for the rocket launching. But other details, such as the expected trajectory of the rocket, remained the same, it said. The North Korean rocket was expected to fly over waters west of South Korea and east of the Philippines.

The United States and allied nations have condemned North Korea’s plan because they consider its satellite program to be a cover for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that can deliver a nuclear bomb. Under a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions, North Korea is barred from developing nuclear weapons or ballistic-missile technologies.

It was unclear why North Korea rescheduled the launching. But it means that it has become more likely that North Korea will launch the rocket while the Chinese and South Koreans are celebrating the Lunar New Year. In South Korea, the holiday begins on Sunday and extends through Wednesday.

The North’s third nuclear test, on Feb. 12, 2013, also took place near the end of that year’s Lunar New Year’s holiday.

Analysts in South Korea suggest that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, whose family has ruled the country for seven decades, may want to show off advances in his missile and nuclear programs ahead of Feb. 16, the birthday of his father, Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011. The birthday is a major national holiday in the North.

North Korea insists that its rocket program is peaceful, aimed at launching satellites to gather data for weather forecasting and for other scientific purposes. But after the country successfully put a Kwangmyongsong satellite into orbit by using its Unha-3 rocket in December 2012, the United States worried that in the process, the North was also moving toward acquiring the ability to deliver a nuclear warhead on a long-range ballistic missile.

That Unha-3, a three-stage rocket, blasted off from the North’s Tongchang-ri launching site near the country’s northwestern border with China.

In a report published Friday, 38 North, a United States website which uses commercial satellite imagery to analyze activity at North Korea’s Tongchang-ri launch site and other locations, said that tanker trucks had arrived at the launching pad to fuel the rocket.

“In the past, such activity has occurred one-two weeks prior to a launch event,” said the report on 38 North, which is run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

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