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TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -- North Korea may be preparing to launch a long-range ballistic missile that could reach parts of the United States, Japanese media reports said on Friday, but Japan's government said it did not believe a launch was imminent.
Quoting unidentified South Korean government officials, public broadcaster NHK said satellite pictures showed there have been signs since early this month around a site in northeastern North Korea that pointed to a possible firing in the near future.
Analysts have said, though, that development of a multiple-stage version of a ballistic missile that can take payloads deep into the continental United States is years away.
Japan's top government spokesman, Shinzo Abe, said he could not comment on specific security issues, but added, "At the moment, we do not believe that a launch is imminent."
Asked by reporters if the situation posed a threat to Japan's national security, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said: "Japan maintains its security through deterrence under the Japan-U.S. security alliance and I believe North Korea knows that."