South Korean news reports said Saturday that Pyongyang has finished building a viewing booth for leader Kim Jong-un to watch an expected missile launch, underscoring assessments by US, Japanese and South Korea officials that the test could take place as early as Sunday or Monday.
The reports say North Korea may also have decided on a Sunday launch to distract US attention during the Feb. 7 Super Bowl 50 game in Santa Clara, Calif. Forecasts for bad weather in the Korean peninsula at the beginning of the week is also said to be a factor in Pyongyang’s timing.
“Since they’ve built a viewing booth it seems Kim Jong-un will personally watch the launch,” a source told Chosun Daily.
The Japanese and South Korean governments said early Saturday that the North is bringing forward and shortening the time frame for the launch, indicating a possible Sunday launch.
US officials gave a slightly longer time frame Saturday saying that a launch could occur as early as Monday. A US think tank has reported that satellite images taken this week of North Korea’s Sohae rocket launch site show apparent fueling activity seen in the past shortly before a rocket launch.
The Chinese Lunar New Year (observed by Koreans) falls on Monday.
Japan’s military said this weekend it has dispatched three missile-tracking Aegis destroyers in the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan in response to the expected launch. Preparations to deploy Patriot PAC-3 missile batteries on Okinawa are also said to be nearly complete. PAC-3 batteries have also been activated in downtown Tokyo. US naval vessels are aiding Japan’s military in tracking the North Korean test.
Tension has been high on the Korean peninsula following the North’s fourth nuclear test, on Jan. 6. A rocket test now would compound fears about North Korea putting a nuclear warhead on a missile that could reach not only South Korea and Japan but possibly even the west coast of the United States.