Satellite images show fuel trucks at N. Korea launch site - think tank

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WASHINGTON, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Satellite images taken this week of North Korea's Sohae rocket launch site show apparent fueling activity seen in the past one to two weeks before a rocket launch, a U.S. think tank said on Friday.

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North Korea has told U.N. agencies it will launch a rocket carrying what it called an earth observation satellite some time between Feb. 8 and Feb. 25, triggering international opposition from governments that see it as a long-range missile test.

Commercial satellite images from Wednesday and Thursday show the arrival of tanker trucks at the launch pad, said Washington-based 38 North, a North Korea-monitoring project. It said the presence of the trucks likely indicated the filling of tanks within bunkers at the site rather than a rocket itself.

"In the past, such activity has occurred one to two weeks prior to a launch event and would be consistent with North Korea's announced launch window," the report said.

A U.S. defense official said on Thursday activity detected at the site was consistent with a launch in the time frame given by Pyongyang. On Friday, a U.S. government source said U.S. intelligence agencies believed North Korea could be ready by the U.S. Super Bowl kickoff on Sunday, which will be Monday, Korea time.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with President Xi Jinping of China, North Korea's main ally and neighbor and agreed that North Korea's planned launch would represent a "provocative and destabilizing action," the White House said.

Obama and Xi also said they would coordinate efforts to respond to North Korea's nuclear test last month and said they would not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapon state.

"The leaders emphasized the importance of a strong and united international response to North Korea's provocations, including through an impactful UN Security Council Resolution," the White House said.

Washington and Beijing have appeared divided over how to respond to North Korea, with the United States urging tougher sanctions and China stressing the need for dialog.

Earlier on Friday, Xi told South Korea's president that China was dedicated to maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

"We hope all sides can act bearing in mind the broader picture of maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula, and calmly deal with the present situation," China's Foreign Ministry quoted Xi as saying.

The 38 North report said activity could also be seen around a building at the launch site used in the past to receive and assemble rocket stages.

It said the imagery showed vehicles including one or two buses and a crane and added: "This level of activity compares favorably to that seen prior to the previous launch in 2012."

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The report said the images indicated no significant changes at the launch pad itself, where work platforms on the gantry towers remained folded forward. It said coverings obscured whether a space-launch vehicle was present on the pad.

"Although there is no activity indicating an imminent launch, the gantry tower and launch pad complex appear to be capable of conducting a launch within the announced launch window," it said.

North Korea says it has a sovereign right to pursue a space program. But it is barred under U.N. Security Council resolutions from using ballistic missile technology.

Coming so soon after North Korea's fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, a rocket launch would raise concern that it plans to fit nuclear warheads on its missiles, giving it the capability to strike South Korea, Japan and possibly the U.S. West Coast.

The United States has deployed missile defense systems that will work with the Japanese and South Korean militaries to track the launch.

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Satellite images show fuel trucks at N. Korea launch site - think tank
A TV screen shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a shop in Tokyo, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said it conducted a powerful hydrogen bomb test Wednesday, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would be a huge jump in Pyongyang's quest to improve its still-limited nuclear arsenal. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Japan's U.N. Ambassador Motohide Yoshikawa speaks during a press conference after attending a Security Council meeting on North Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016 at U.N. headquarters. North Korea trumpeted its first hydrogen bomb test Wednesday, a powerful, self-proclaimed "H-bomb of justice" that would mark a major and unanticipated advance for its still-limited nuclear arsenal. Pyongyang's announcement was met with widespread skepticism, but whatever the North detonated in its fourth nuclear test, another round of tough international sanctions looms for the defiant, impoverished country. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
United Kingdom's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Peter Wilson address the press before attending a Security Council meeting on North Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016 at U.N. headquarters. North Korea trumpeted its first hydrogen bomb test Wednesday, a powerful, self-proclaimed "H-bomb of justice". The United Nations secretary-general is condemning North Koreaâs announcement of its latest nuclear test, calling it âprofoundly destabilizing for regional security.â (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Earthquake and Volcano of the Korea Meteorological Administration Director General Yun Won-tae stands in front of a screen showing seismic waves that were measured in South Korea, in Seoul Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said it had conducted a powerful hydrogen bomb test Wednesday, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would be a huge jump in Pyongyang's quest to improve its still-limited nuclear arsenal. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
A Chinese paramilitary policeman stands guard outside the North Korean Embassy in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said it conducted a powerful hydrogen bomb test Wednesday, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would be a huge jump in Pyongyang's quest to improve its still-limited nuclear arsenal. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
South Korean army soldiers patrol the barbed-wire fence in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said it conducted a powerful hydrogen bomb test Wednesday, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would be a huge jump in Pyongyang's quest to improve its still-limited nuclear arsenal.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean army soldiers patrol by the barbed-wire fence in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said it conducted a powerful hydrogen bomb test Wednesday, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would be a huge jump in Pyongyang's quest to improve its still-limited nuclear arsenal. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Chinese paramilitary policemen stand guard outside the North Korean Embassy in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said it conducted a powerful hydrogen bomb test Wednesday, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would be a huge jump in Pyongyang's quest to improve its still-limited nuclear arsenal. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying speaks during a briefing at the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea's main ally China said it "firmly opposes" Pyongyang's purported hydrogen bomb test and is monitoring the environment along its border with the North near the test site. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
North Koreans watch a news broadcast on a video screen outside Pyongyang Railway Station in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said Wednesday it had conducted a hydrogen bomb test, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would put Pyongyang a big step closer toward improving its still-limited nuclear arsenal. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
A North Korean national flag flutters in the wind on the roof of its embassy in Beijing, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said it conducted a powerful hydrogen bomb test Wednesday, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would be a huge jump in Pyongyang's quest to improve its still-limited nuclear arsenal. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
People watch a TV news program showing North Korea's announcement, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said Wednesday it had conducted a hydrogen bomb test, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would put Pyongyang a big step closer toward improving its still-limited nuclear arsenal. The letters read " Will not use nuclear weapon if autonomy secured." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV screen showing the news reporting about an earthquake near North Korea's nuclear facility at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said Wednesday it had conducted a hydrogen bomb test, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would put Pyongyang a big step closer toward improving its still-limited nuclear arsenal. The letters read: " North Korea's nuclear test." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A TV screen shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an electronics store in Tokyo, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said Wednesday it had conducted a hydrogen bomb test, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would put Pyongyang a big step closer toward improving its still-limited nuclear arsenal. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
People walk by a screen showing the news reporting about an earthquake near North Korea's nuclear facility, in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. South Korean officials detected an "artificial earthquake" near North Korea's main nuclear test site Wednesday, a strong indication that nuclear-armed Pyongyang had conducted its fourth atomic test. North Korea said it planned an "important announcement" later Wednesday. The letter read "5.1 Earthquake near North Korea's nuclear facility." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
North Koreans watch a news broadcast on a video screen outside Pyongyang Railway Station in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said Wednesday it had conducted a hydrogen bomb test, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would put Pyongyang a big step closer toward improving its still-limited nuclear arsenal. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
Uruguay's U.N. Ambassador and current Security Council president Elbio Rosselli speaks during a press conference after a closed Security Council meeting on North Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, at U.N. headquarters. North Korea trumpeted its first hydrogen bomb test Wednesday, a powerful, self-proclaimed "H-bomb of justice" that would mark a major and unanticipated advance for its still-limited nuclear arsenal. Pyongyang's announcement was met with widespread skepticism, but whatever the North detonated in its fourth nuclear test, another round of tough international sanctions looms for the defiant, impoverished country. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
South Korean army soldiers patrol by ribbons, wishing for the reunification of the two Koreas, attached on the barbed-wire fence in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said it conducted a powerful hydrogen bomb test Wednesday, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would be a huge jump in Pyongyang's quest to improve its still-limited nuclear arsenal. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Map locates North Korea's nuclear facilities and recent test site.; 2c x 4 inches; 96.3 mm x 101 mm;
Officers from the Korea Meteorological Administration point at the epicenter of seismic waves in North Korea, at the National Earthquake and Volcano Center of the Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. North Korea said it conducted a powerful hydrogen bomb test Wednesday, a defiant and surprising move that, if confirmed, would be a huge jump in Pyongyang's quest to improve its still-limited nuclear arsenal. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
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(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and Mark Hosenball in Washington and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by David Alexander and James Dalgleish)


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