North Korea may be getting ready to launch a long-range ballistic missile following its fourth nuclear test early this month, Japan's Kyodo News reported.
Satellite imagery analysis in recent days indicates preparations for a possible launch, Kyodo said, citing an unidentified person in the Japanese government. Both Japan and South Korea declined to confirm the report.
The regime in Pyongyang fired a long-range rocket before each of its previous three nuclear tests, which all resulted in a tightening of international sanctions. In 2012, North Korea put a satellite into orbit via a rocket, which the US and South Korea called a test of ballistic missile technology banned under United Nations Security Council resolutions.
"As a government we are very interested in North Korea's motives regarding the missile, and we are gathering information and working to analyze it as usual,'' Japan's deputy chief cabinet secretary Koichi Hagiuda said at a regular briefing Thursday. ''But I decline to comment on the nature of the details of this specific information."
South Korea is worried North Korea may conduct a surprise launch in a follow-up to its 6 January nuclear test, Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters in Seoul.
International trade bans on arms and luxury items have not convinced North Korea to halt its development of weapons of mass destruction and return to disarmament talks that broke down in 2009.
On a trip to Beijing on Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry failed to secure China's support for tougher sanctions against North Korea over its latest nuclear test, with the countries agreeing in Beijing only to pursue a new UN Security Council resolution. China wields a veto in the council and supplies most of North Korea's food and energy imports.