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Reaction Mixed To Planned N. Korea Rocket Launch

North Korea may launch a controversial three-stage rocket as early as Saturday. The long-range rocket would be similar to an intercontinental ballistic missile, but would carry a satellite.

Last month, North Korea announced it would launch the satellite into orbit sometime between April 4 and April 8.

President Obama, who is meeting with European leaders this week, has called the planned launch provocative several times. In a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday, Obama said the launch would put enormous strain on the international diplomatic process designed to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons.

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"Should North Korea decide to take this action, we will work with all interested partners in the international community to take appropriate steps to let North Korea know that they cannot threaten the safety and stability of other countries with impunity," Obama said.

North Korea insists this rocket launch is purely civilian in nature and is designed to put only a satellite in orbit. But many specialists in the U.S. believe there are similarities between the satellite launch rocket and a military Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile. The process of placing a satellite in orbit and deploying a nuclear warhead are also similar.

The uneasiness over this rocket launch has sparked much speculation about whether measures should be taken to stop it. A few days ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates all but ruled out the use of American missile interceptors against the North Korean rocket.

But the rocket will fly over Japanese territory, and the Japanese government has sent warships that carry missile interceptors toward the North Korean coast. The North Korean government reacted sharply to that step.

"If Japan loses discretion and commits an act of interception against our peaceful satellite, then our people's army will mercilessly impose a resolute fire of revenge on major targets as well as the interceptor ships that have already been deployed," a news reader on North Korean television said this week.

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The reaction in South Korea has been anything but heated. There are certainly many people there who oppose the North Korean launch, including South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who said in London on Friday that he believed the North Koreans would go ahead with the launch. But Ed Reed, a representative of the Asia Foundation in Seoul, says the wider public in South Korea is not greatly concerned about it. Reed says he believes that the North Koreans are far more interested in sending a signal to the United States. It may also be, "a strong statement to their own people that their country has reached the level of an advanced state that can actually join the space age and the club of countries that launch satellites," he says.

President Obama met with President Lee on Thursday, and the two agreed to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council if North Korea goes through with the launch. North Korea has said in that case, it would end its participation in the international talks designed to rid it of its nuclear weapons program.

But a senior South Korean intelligence official said Friday, on background, that he did not believe North Korea would make good on that threat. With time, this official said, North Korea would return to the negotiating table. But, he added, it could take many months.

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