Tokyo: Japan will remain on the alert and continue to monitor a planned North Korean rocket launch, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said on Monday as a 13-day launch window began, with North Korea suggesting the launch might be delayed.
Defence Minister Satoshi Morimoto told reporters at the Defence Ministry that Japan will not downgrade its alert level before any delay is officially confirmed.
"We don't think enough changes are occurring to warrant a change in our alert level," he said.
"Until North Korea issues an official notification or announcement, we will stay on our guard." Noda entered his office just before 7 am, the start of a daily five-hour launch window, while other Cabinet ministers including Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and Morimoto also reached their desks at that time.
The Defence Ministry said there was no information on the possible rocket launch as of noon on Monday.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a press conference that as Japan is "not aware" of any announcement concerning a change in North Korea's launch plan, it will stay on the alert and take "necessary" measures that would allow it "to respond to contingencies."
"The Japanese government will continue to urge North Korean authorities to cancel the plan as the launch would violate a number of UN Council resolutions," Fujimura said.
North Korea had earlier notified the International Maritime Organisation that it would launch a rocket carrying a satellite sometime between 7 am and noon any day from December 10 to December 22.
But Pyongyang has suggested it may postpone its planned launch for "some reasons," according to a report issued early on Sunday by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The Unha-3 rocket, if launched, could fly over areas of Okinawa Prefecture as North Korea has said it would travel in a southerly direction from a launch site in the country's northwest, with some areas in the sea marked off as those where parts of the rocket would fall.
To prepare for the possibility that the rocket might fall onto Japanese territory, Tokyo has moved Maritime Self-Defence Force ships armed with antiballistic missiles in position in waters surrounding Japan, among other measures.
Meanwhile, two RC-135S spy planes of the US Air Force took off from the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in the predawn hours of today, possibly to monitor and track the rocket in the event it is launched, according to people familiar with the move.