With unbridled speculation over North Korea's missile launch next month, Seoul and Washington are stepping up efforts to avert its provocation by tightening monitoring, intensifying international co-operation and bringing US strategic assets to the peninsula for a display of force.
Though Pyongyang has hinted at carrying out nuclear and missile tests to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the inception of its ruling Workers' Party on Oct. 10, no clear signs of any imminent liftoff have been detected across the border, Seoul officials said Thursday.
The communist state appears to have nearly completed extending a launch pad by around 10 meters to some 60 meters at its missile site in the west coastal town of Dongchang. Satellite imagery showed fence screens installed to conceal its work in the final stages remain there.
"We're closely following North Korea's missile launch-related activities in coordination with the US, and will disclose to the public if we spot any signs of any impending firing," Defence Ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok said at a news briefing.
A Unification Ministry official also told reporters that there was no trace of a looming launch.
Last week, the North threatened to put in orbit a satellite in celebration of the party anniversary, while reaffirming its commitment to beef up its "nuclear deterrence" to counter what it calls a hostile US policy. Uriminjokkiri, a state-run propaganda outlet, also repeated the argument, saying "no one can take issue with its sovereign right" to launch a satellite and strengthen its nuclear capabilities.
The ongoing string of threats have prompted not only South Korea and the US but also China and other countries to urge the Kim Jong-un regime to refrain, warning of further sanctions and other disciplinary steps.
While seeking closer coordination with Seoul and Beijing at upcoming bilateral summits, Washington is set to dispatch Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to Busan for a naval review slated for Oct. 18-23 in a show of its military might and veiled warnings against Pyongyang.
Put in service in 2003, the 97,000 ton vessel is capable of carrying about 90 jets including F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters, EA-18G Growler electric warfare planes and E-2C Hawkeye early warning aircraft.
In another development, the US Air Force also plans to send two F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, Global Hawk high-altitude US unmanned surveillance aircraft, C-17 Globemaster III transport helicopter and others for an aerospace fair scheduled for Oct. 20-25 in Seoul.