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South Korea on Alert as Clinton Prepares Trip to Region

By VOA News
13 February 2009

South Korean anti-missile defense systems are on alert, bracing for a possible North Korean test of a long-range missile capable of hitting the western United States.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo told lawmakers Friday the country is closely monitoring North Korean movements and that it will be ready for any situation.

A South Korean newspaper reported Friday, Pyongyang is assembling the Taepodong-2 missile at a launch site along the North Korea's east coast.

The newspaper quotes sources saying the missile could be test-fired by the end of the month to coincide with the anniversary of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's inauguration.

The rising tensions come as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepares to visit the region.

She is scheduled to give a major foreign policy address in New York Friday, before arriving in Asia Sunday for her first overseas trip as the top U.S. diplomat.

The tour will take Clinton to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, and China and State Department officials say she will discuss North Korea's nuclear program.

Clinton has called North Korea's recent behavior unacceptable.

But U.S. officials say it is in North Korea's power to bring about a positive outcome by keeping its commitments to disable nuclear facilities and verify information about its nuclear activities.

Clinton will be traveling to the region with the chief U.S. negotiator to the six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program, Christopher Hill, who has been nominated as the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

The State Department has not confirmed media reports that a former ambassador to South Korea, Stephen Bosworth, will be named as Hill's replacement. Bosworth just returned from a five-day visit to North Korea, where he says officials told him they are willing to talk to the Obama administration.

Also Thursday, President Obama's national intelligence director told a Senate hearing that North Korea probably would not use nuclear weapons against the United States unless Pyongyang was on the verge of military defeat. Dennis Blair says North Korea's small nuclear arsenal is more for deterrence, international prestige and coercive diplomacy.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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