Imagery collected over the past several days suggested them launch from the western Dongchang-ri site could come in about a week, Kyodo News said, citing a Japanese government source it did not identify.

Increased movements of people and vehicles were seen around the launch site, which has now apparently been covered over, national broadcaster NHK said, citing a source familiar with Japan-South Korea relations.

The United States regularly monitors North Korea from space while Japan itself began its own satellite monitoring of the country in 2003.

North Korea is banned under UN Security Council resolutions from carrying out any launch using ballistic missile technology, although repeated small-range missile tests have gone unpunished.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing yesterday  and said they had agreed to mount an 'accelerated effort' to try to resolve their differences on a new resolution.

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