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South Suggests Weather Has Delayed North Korea Launch

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (in sunglasses) inspecting a power station's construction site on March 26.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (in sunglasses) inspecting a power station's construction site on March 26.

SEOUL (Reuters) -- Poor weather and planning may have forced North Korea to delay the launch of a long-range rocket, officials in Seoul said on April 4, after Pyongyang reported preparations were complete and lift-off would take place soon.

The United States, Japan, and South Korea see the launch as the test of a long-range missile designed to carry a warhead to U.S. territory and say it would violate UN resolutions.

North Korea has said the launch would take place between April 4-8. It has tested the rocket known as the Taepodong-2 only once before, in 2006, when it exploded less than a minute into flight.

Impoverished North Korea, which for years has used military threats to wring concessions from regional powers, has said it is putting a satellite into orbit as part of a peaceful space program and threatened war if the rocket was intercepted.

"We thought the launch was likely today, but weather conditions at the rocket base may not have been favourable," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a presidential Blue House official as saying. A separate government source told Yonhap that the North's preparations appeared to be insufficient.

South Korea's meteorological agency said the general area around the North Korean missile base was under mostly cloudy skies with occasionally strong winds. Slightly clearer days are forecast for April 5 and 6, with less wind.

Experts have said clear visibility would help North Korea, with limited radar capabilities, monitor the flight.

It also needs good weather to shoot footage that analysts said would be played on state TV if the launch worked.

Analysts said a successful launch would help leader Kim Jong Il, 67, shore up support after a suspected stroke in August raised questions about his grip on power.

The North's KCNA news agency earlier said preparations were complete, adding: "The satellite will be launched soon."

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday the international community would take action if North Korea went ahead with the launch to show Pyongyang it could not "threaten the safety and stability of other countries with impunity."

Japan earlier withdrew an announcement that North Korea had appeared to have launched the rocket. The prime minister's office said its announcement had been a mistake.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura told reporters it appeared unlikely the rocket launch would occur on April 4.

With an estimated range of 6,700 kilometers, the rocket being prepared is supposed to fly over Japan, dropping boosters to its west and east on a path that runs southwest of Hawaii.

Japan has sent missile-intercepting ships along the rocket's flight path and said it could shoot down any debris such as falling booster stages that threaten to strike its territory.

Japan, the United States and South Korea said they have no plans to shoot down the rocket unless it threatens their land.