ABC News' Luis Martinez reports: US officials tell ABCNews that North Korea has begun placing a Taepodong 2 missile at a launch facility in preparation for what it says will be the launch of a communications satellite sometime between April 4 and 8th.
The launch has drawn concern from the United States and Asian countries because the same technology used to launch a satellite can be used to launch ballistic missiles and would amount to a test of North Korea's ability to reach the United States with a ballistic missile.
One US official says that North Korea appears to have set up two stages of a three stage Taepodong 2 missile at the Musudan Ni launch facility located on the country's northeast coast.
North Korea announced its intention to launch a communications satellite in February and since then US officials have confirmed activity has taken place at the launch site, though no missile had been spotted until now.
One US official said of the recent activity, "Yes, there is something out there and it's an additional step beyond what we've seen before. "
Another US official tells ABC News that the placement of the rocket stages on the launch pad occurred within the last 24 to 48 hours.
Once the stacking of the stages is completed, the next step would be the fueling of the launch vehicle. This official says there are no indications that the fueling process has begun.
The same official says all indications are that the North Koreans are on schedule for a launch date between April 4th and 8th, the date they identified as their target date.
The North Koreans could accelerate the fueling process to speed up a launch date, but this official says so far things "are progressing along" for the publicly stated launch date
Top US intelligence official Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, told Congress a few weeks ago that he has no reason to doubt the North Koreans' stated intent of launching a communications satellite.
North Korea launched a Taepodong-2 from the same facility on July 4, 2006, but that missile blew up shortly after launch.
The State Department and regional partners have stated that the launch of any missile, even the launch of a satellite, is a violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution that North Korea from engaging in ballistic missile activity. Asked about the report of new activity at the launch facility Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters today, "We continue to monitor the situation closely. We are very interested in it, following it very closely. And I think that's where I want to leave it at this point. " Admiral Timothy Keating, who heads US Pacific Command, told a congressional panel yesterday that the US military is ready for a North Korean launch.
"We are up to task, I believe," the admiral said. "We are ready to defend U.S. territory, our allies and our national interests if the President so directs."