NORTH KOREA - North Korea is pressing ahead with its preparation to launch a long-range rocket this month, placing the second stage of the launch vehicle in position on Tuesday, a Seoul government source said.
It is now in the process of installing the last and third stage of the rocket in the Dongchang-ri launch site in Cheolsan, North Pyongan Province, the official added, declining to be named.
Pyongyang is expected to finish the assembly work by as early as on Wednesday to carry out the launch slated for between Dec 10 and 22.
Seoul and Washington believe that it is a missile test disguised as a satellite launch.
After assembling the rocket, other components such as power supply and fuel injection cables will be put together ? the final process, which is expected to take an additional week, experts said.
With the liftoff impending, Seoul and Washington are now focusing on mapping out new, tougher sanctions.
Since last week, the allies have discussed the scope and content of additional punishment based on a shared recognition that the previous measures taken in response to its failed launch in April were not effective.
Seoul's chief nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam left Tuesday for Washington where he is to meet US officials including Glyn Davies, US special envoy for North Korea policy, and Robert Einhorn, US special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control.
"In line with our government policy to respond to North Korea's missile launch in a calm yet stern manner, (I) plan to have a consultation with the US side with a focus on intensifying diplomacy to block the launch and expanding bilateral cooperation with the US," Lim told media before departing for the US.
Seoul's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Cho Tai-young said that Pyongyang would face "due consequences" should it go ahead with the launch, as it would constitute a "grave" breach of UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874.
The allies appear to be considering a set of tougher sanctions.
They include adopting a UN Security Council statement containing stronger international denunciation; freezing North Korea's financial assets deposited at foreign banks; and expanding an existing sanction to block the passage of North Korean ships carrying military exports.
Pyongyang announced last Saturday it would launch a long-range rocket carrying a "polar-orbiting working satellite" between Dec 10 and 22.
The North has notified the International Maritime Organisation and the International Civil Aviation Organisation of its launch plan.
It said that the first-stage propellant is to fall in waters some 140 kilometers from Gyeokpo Port in South Korea's North Jeolla Province while the second-stage propellant should drop in waters some 136 kilometers east of the Philippines.