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Nations press North Korea on missile

U.S.: Pyongyang completes pre-launch fueling

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A South Korean activist holds a mock nuclear missile during an anti-North Korea rally last year.

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TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Japan, Australia and the United States have united in saying that any test-launching of an intercontinental missile by North Korea would result in serious and stern consequences.

A Bush administration official told The Associated Press that Pyongyang has completed fueling a missile with the range to reach the United States, increasing the chances a launch might occur soon.

U.S. officials told Reuters news agency it was difficult to remove fuel from a Taepodong-2 missile, making it appear likely that Pyongyang was serious about the launch.

The launch window was about a month, AP reported.

Since word of a possible test-firing emerged last week, nations around the world have expressed growing concern.

"It would be a very serious matter and, indeed, a provocative act, should North Korea decide to launch that missile," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday.

"We will obviously consult on next steps, but I can assure everyone, it would be taken with utmost seriousness."

Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said his nation would respond sternly to a missile test by North Korea. (Watch how Japan is taking the lead in tough talk against North Korea -- 1:11)

Earlier, Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer warned the North Korean ambassador that "serious consequences would follow such a firing."

"Such action would be highly provocative and would further isolate the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea)," Downer said in a statement issued early Monday.

While North Korea has not commented on any potential missile launch, the official KCNA news agency said in a statement Saturday that alleged sightings of U.S. military surveillance aircraft over the country were creating "an imminent danger of military clash in the sky above those waters."

Some U.S. officials said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il could be bluffing to gain leverage in stalled six-party talks aimed at curbing Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. The talks include the two Koreas, Russia, the United States, Japan and China.

The isolated communist state had sometimes engaged in surprise behavior to attract international attention when it felt it was being ignored, and it might feel slighted over the U.S. focus on resolving the nuclear issue with Iran, they said.

A test of a Taepodong-2 missile would be North Korea's first long-range missile test since 1998, when Pyongyang surprised the world and sparked an international crisis by firing an intermediate-range missile over Japan.

The United States has urged Pyongyang to return to talks on its nuclear programs. White House press secretary Tony Snow said on "CNN's Late Edition" that he would prefer to find ways to "draw Korea back into the international community rather than take provocative actions."

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso was more specific Sunday, saying: "If it flies over here, falls here or even they launch it towards the international sea ... we will immediately seek a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the issue."

South Korean ambassador to the United States, Lee Tae-sik, said that while the preparations were "quite worrisome," it was best not to "make a conclusion" that the test would take place.

"We see the signs that they are moving in that direction, yet we cannot rule out the possibility that at the last moment, it will change its mind," Lee said.

North Korea has observed a self-declared moratorium on long-range missile testing since 1999, and a 2005 pledge that calls on it and its neighbors, as well as the United States, to maintain peace and security in Northeast Asia.

CNN's David Ensor contributed to this report.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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