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North Korea Readies Long-Range Rocket, Launches Power Play

April 11, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next, stories about two secretive Asian nations, China’s internal political power struggles and the normally veiled North Korea showing the world its prowess in missile technology.

We start with the Korean story.

North Korea welcomed foreign journalists inside its satellite control and command center in Pyongyang today, something it had never done before.

PAEK CHANG HO, chief, North Korean Central Satellite Control and Command Center: (through translator): To show our transparency, that’s why we have invited everybody here, to show the transparency of our satellite launch.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On Sunday, reporters had been allowed for the first time to visit the launch site on the country’s western coast. The long-range rocket was being fueled there today.

It could launch as early as tomorrow, despite weeks of warnings from abroad.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Tuesday any launch would constitute a provocation.

YOSHIHIKO NODA, Japanese Prime Minister (through translator): The missile launch described as a satellite is clearly in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. Based on this, we strongly urge North Korea to refrain from the launch, and we would need continuous international cooperation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Japan has also deployed missile interceptors, and warned the rocket will be shot down if it crosses Japanese territory.

And in Washington yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued her own warning as she met with Japan’s foreign minister.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I would just underscore that if North Korea wants a peaceful, better future for their people, it shouldn’t conduct another launch. That would be a direct threat to regional security.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In February, U.S. officials said North Korea had agreed to halt nuclear enrichment and all missile activity in return for U.S. food aid.

The North insisted again today that its planned launch wouldn’t violate any agreements, since it involves a satellite and not a nuclear warhead. U.S. officials have argued any missile that can carry a satellite could some day carry a warhead.

Meanwhile, South Korea said this week that the North is digging a tunnel that may be used for another underground nuclear test, all of this as Pyongyang marks the centennial birthday of its founder, Kim Il-Sung. His grandson and the country’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, was given yet another title today, first secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party, further enhancing his position.