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Japan, U.S., South Korea defense officials discuss North’s launch plans

by

Staff Writer

Defense officials from Japan, the United States and South Korea held a video conference Friday to discuss the planned North Korean satellite launch they widely believe will be a cover for a ballistic missile test.

According to the Defense Ministry, working-level officials from the three allies shared information on the situation and agreed to coordinate their response to the provocative test, which will violate U.N. resolutions. They also vowed to cooperate with the international community in dealing with the launch.

The move comes after North Korea on Tuesday notified the International Maritime Organization it will launch an earth observation satellite sometime between Feb. 8 and Feb. 25.

CNN on Friday reported that North Korea appeared to have started fueling the missile, quoting a government source, and said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could order the launch as early as Sunday.

North Korea’s latest test comes at a time when tensions between it and the international community are being strained by an underground nuclear test Pyongyang conducted last month that it said was its first hydrogen bomb. The U.N. Security Council has been working to draft a new resolution to condemn last month’s test, but has yet to agree on the details.

Also on Friday, China, Pyongyang’s only ally, warned North Korea that it did not want to see anything happen that could further escalate tensions.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing had sent special nuclear issues envoy Wu Dawei to North Korea to address what he described as “a serious situation.” He said China needed contacts “with all parties,” mentioning the United States, South Korea and Russia.

To prepare for the launch, Japan’s disaster management agency carried out a nationwide drill Friday involving J-Alert, an advisory service that could be used to alert local authorities about the launch.

The government is aiming to hold further drills in Okinawa, which is likely to be in the rocket’s flight path, where it will broadcast alert messages to residents through public announcement systems.

Meanwhile, Japan’s two biggest airlines said they plan to change some of their routes. In particular, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines said they intend to divert planes that normally fly over waters near the Philippines, where parts and debris from the missile are expected to fall.

The ANA flights will include services from Tokyo’s Haneda airport to Manila, from Manila to Narita airport, and from Jakarta to Narita, the airline said.

Affected JAL flights will include services from Jakarta to Narita and from Narita to Manila, the carrier said.

Information from Kyodo and Reuters added