Thursday, March 26, 2009

U.S. Welcomes African Union's Call to Action on Mauritania

U.S. Welcomes African Union's Call to Action on Mauritania. By Gordon Duguid, Acting Deputy Department Spokesman, Office of the Spokesman
US State Dept, Bureau of Public AffairsWashington, DC, March 26, 2009

The United States welcomes and supports the March 24 African Union Peace and Security Council’s reaffirmation of its decision to impose targeted sanctions on civilian and military individuals that maintain the unconstitutional status quo in Mauritania. The coup d'etat in Mauritania has proven to be a dangerous and destabilizing precedent for the continent and we join the African Union in its rejection of unconstitutional changes in government.

PRN: 263

Federal President's "government first" attitude puts food safety at risk

Food Fight, by Jim Prevor
Obama's 'government first' attitude puts food safety at risk.
The Weekly Standard, Mar 20, 2009 12:00:00 AM

While nominating Dr. Margaret Hamburg as head of the FDA and appointing Joshua Sharfstein as her deputy, President Obama showed a laudable passion as he addressed the nation regarding food safety. Unfortunately, his understanding of the situation is incorrect and his professed goal is counterproductive.

President Obama showed he is blinded by the liberal conceit that the government is the most important factor in food safety: "There are certain things only a government can do. And one of those things is ensuring that the foods we eat are safe and don't cause us harm."

This is nonsense. The government does not farm or process anything, it does not distribute, market or cook, and it cannot possibly monitor the hundreds of millions of people in over 100 countries and every state, from field to fork, that have a role in food safety.

Food in the United States is generally safe for four reasons: First, because there are moral precepts that make the vast majority of producers intent on doing no harm to their customers. Second, because the value of a brand and a company dissipate rapidly if they sicken or kill their customers. Third, because those who prepare meals at home mostly love those they cook for and so try to serve wholesome foods. Fourth, because the United States is an affluent, western society with advanced technologies and procedures for making foods safe and we are both willing and able to spend money to have safer food.

Of course, government is important. It sets up the legal and economic ground rules within which we operate. But its specific effect on food safety is dramatically overstated by those, like the president, who seem able to identify virtue only in public employees.

What else could the president mean when he says, "The men and women who inspect our foods it is because of the work they do each and every day that the United States is one of the safest places in the world to buy groceries"? It seems the president has this notion that the entire private sector for food production and distribution is filled with bad actors being held back by an army of federal inspectors.

The president says this but in the same address he contradicts himself by pointing out that "the FDA has been underfunded and understaffed in recent years, leaving the agency with the resources to inspect just 7,000 of our 150,000 food processing plants and warehouses each year. That means roughly 95% of them go uninspected." Obviously it is impossible to both hold that we barely inspect anything and yet it is these inspections that are responsible for the overwhelmingly safe food we have in America.

The president either misunderstands or misrepresents the problem. He explains that "in recent years, we've seen a number of problems with the food making its way to our kitchen tables. In 2006, it was contaminated spinach. In 2008, it was salmonella in peppers and possibly tomatoes. And just this year, bad peanut products led to hundreds of illnesses and cost nine people their lives these incidents reflect a troubling trend that's seen the average number of outbreaks from contaminated produce and other foods grow to nearly 350 a year--up from 100 a year in the early 1990s."

The choice of the early 1990s as the baseline is telling. For it was only in 1993, during the horrible Jack-in-the-Box food safety outbreak in which four children died, that staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used a technique of DNA fingerprinting known as pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) to establish that the sick people all had the same strain and that the strain matched the strain of E. Coli found in the hamburger patties.

Up to that point, food safety outbreaks were typically identified in the context of a local event such as a banquet, where many people may have gotten sick from eating the same contaminated food. Before we used PFGE, there was simply no way to tie together illnesses in different cities and states by people who had eaten many different things at many different times.

Even after PFGE was known to work, there was no easy way to share that data. After the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak, the CDC established standardized PFGE techniques and began development of PulseNet, a computer bulletin board at CDC headquarters in Atlanta where state labs could share and compare their PFGE findings. Officially opened in 1996, the system hobbled on for many years--the states didn't collect the proper data; and few scientists at the state laboratories had the expertise or experience to use PFGE and PulseNet properly.

It was really only after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 when, due to concern about food security not food safety, we saw enhanced funding for PulseNet and the state laboratories. This resulted in a quantum leap in our ability to identify outbreaks. But better identification is not the same as the "troubling trend" the President spoke of. In all likelihood, our increased sophistication, such as the use of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans in food processing, the development of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Commodity Specific Guidelines for specific produce items and a myriad of food safety steps taken to protect beef, means we have less foodborne illness than ever. Our better detection techniques distort the numbers.

The president touchingly invoked his daughter Sasha's love of peanut butter sandwiches to define his food safety bottom line: "No parent should have to worry that their child is going to get sick from their lunch." Tugging at heartstrings probably wins points on the national polls but it would have been more helpful if the president explained the real situation to the people of America.

The truth is that our food supply is enormously safe. Known pathogens account for about 1,800 deaths per year from foodborne illness. If we include unknown pathogens, an estimated total of about 5,000 Americans die each year of foodborne illness -- mostly those with weakened immune systems such as the very old, very young or those with AIDS or undergoing cancer treatment. Although we can and should reduce this number, it needs to be kept in perspective. For example, over 40,000 people, including 6,000 teenagers, die each year in motor vehicle accidents. Yet the president hasn't announced that no parent should have to worry because their child steps in a car.

Food is not made safer for the same reason cars are not made safer. We have the technology to make autos safer, but we recognize that there are trade-offs. Safer vehicles may be more expensive, use more fuel, emit more carbon, etc. Equally, food safety is not a free good. A farm can be contaminated by soil, wind, water, animals or people. We can add buffer zones, put in more pest traps, fence the farm, train employees better and test the water more frequently. Each notch up may make things marginally safer but it also increases the cost. The logic leads to growing each bell pepper in a semiconductor type "clean room" and selling the pepper for $30 each. Does anyone really want that?

The biggest obstacle to enhancing food safety has been that the FDA has been unwilling to accept anything other than a zero tolerance of pathogens. To this day, despite entreaties from industry, FDA will not define what specific food safety measures it wants a produce farmer, for example, to adopt. This is because any specific measure will still leave the occasional outbreak as a possibility, and FDA is petrified of accepting responsibility for this, even if food safety improves overall.

The most important step is for FDA to move away from its zero tolerance attitude and adopt a continuous improvement model as we have in both aviation and autos with great success. Farmers and the food industry are fully prepared to do this. If we focus on doing better we can reduce foodborne illness and save lives. Unfortunately, the president's contempt for the private sector and absolutist attitude toward Sasha's lunch moves us further from this easily obtainable goal.

Jim Prevor is the founder and editor-in-chief of Phoenix Media Network, Inc., a business-to-business media company specializing in the food industry. He writes frequently on food safety and other topics at

For a diplomat, Christopher Hill has ticked off an awful lot of people.

The Insubordinate Ambassador, by Stephen F. Hayes
For a diplomat, Christopher Hill has ticked off an awful lot of people.
The Weekly Standard, Mar 30, 2009, Volume 014, Issue 27

On October 11, 2006, three days after North Korea detonated a crude nuclear device, George W. Bush held a press conference. He recommitted the United States to a diplomatic course on North Korea, but ruled out a bilateral meeting with representatives from the rogue regime:

In order to solve this diplomatically, the United States and our partners must have a strong diplomatic hand, and you have a better diplomatic hand with others sending the message than you do when you're alone. And so, obviously, I made the decision that the bilateral negotiations wouldn't work, and the reason I made that decision is because they didn't.

Three weeks later, Christopher Hill, a veteran of the Foreign Service, overruled the president. Then the government's chief negotiator on North Korea's nuclear program, now Barack Obama's nominee to serve as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Hill didn't much care what the president wanted. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had given Hill permission to meet face-to-face with the North Koreans but only on the condition that diplomats from China were also in the room. Although the Chinese participated in the early moments of the discussions, they soon left. Hill did not leave with them.

North Korea had long sought to deal with the United States bilaterally, more for the legitimacy such direct dealings would confer on the thuggish regime in Pyongyang than because they were interested in serious negotiations. Hill granted their wish. According to former CNN reporter Mike Chinoy, in his book Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis, Hill had "in effect, accepted terms the North Koreans had been putting forward for most of the previous twelve months"--despite the fact that they were "overtures the Bush administration rejected."

Rice was angry. Chinoy writes: "Although Rice remained supportive of reviving the diplomatic process, . . . Hill had held the bilateral [discussion with North Korean negotiator Kim Gye Gwan] in defiance of her instructions."

Think about that. The secretary of state expressly forbade Hill from participating in bilateral talks. The president of the United States was on record opposing bilateral negotiations. Hill thought he knew better.

Meanwhile, North Korea was on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terror, they had just weeks earlier tested a nuclear device, and we now know, at the very time Hill was conducting his rogue diplomacy, North Korea was supplying nuclear technology to Syria--another nation on the State Department's list of terror sponsors.

Hill had done this before. On July 9, 2005, Rice had given approval for a trilateral meeting with the Chinese and the North Koreans in an effort to get the North Koreans to return to the six-party talks on their nuclear program. North Korea had been boycotting the talks in part because Rice had referred to the North as an "outpost of tyranny" in her confirmation hearings. Curiously, the Chinese didn't show up, as they had promised. Hill nonetheless met alone with the North Koreans and gave them an important propaganda victory. According to the official North Korean news agency: "The U.S. side at the contact made between the heads of both delegations in Beijing clarified that it would recognize the DPRK [North Korea] as a sovereign state, not to invade it and hold bilateral talks within the framework of the six-party talks, and the DPRK side interpreted it as a retraction of its remark designating the former as an 'outpost of tyranny' and decided to return to the six-party talks."

Leaving aside questions of Hill's effectiveness--"We clearly have not achieved our objective with North Korea," Vice President Dick Cheney told me just before leaving office--his rank insubordination and cavalier disregard for presidential prerogatives were surely grounds for dismissal. Instead, Bush kept him in place, and now Barack Obama is rewarding him with what is arguably the most sensitive and important U.S. ambassadorship.

That appointment has stirred some opposition among Republicans. Two weeks ago, John McCain and Lindsay Graham sent Obama a letter pointing out Hill's "controversial" diplomacy on North Korea and his lack of experience in the Middle East. The two senators urged Obama to "reconsider this nomination."

Early last week, five additional Republicans--Jon Kyl, Christopher Bond, Sam Brownback, Jim Inhofe, and John Ensign--signaled their opposition to Hill. In a separate letter to Obama they cited Hill's "unprofessional activities" which include cutting out key State Department officials from policy discussions on North Korea and "breaking commitments made for the record before congressional committees."

It is that last point that could make things difficult for Hill in confirmation hearings scheduled for next week. Brownback believes Hill repeatedly misled him--in public testimony--regarding Hill's willingness to make North Korea's human rights record a component of the six-party talks. In 2008 Brownback placed a hold on the nomination of Hill's deputy Kathy Stevens to be ambassador to South Korea. Brownback said he would lift that hold if Hill would promise to include Jay Lefkowitz, the special envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, in all further discussions with the North Koreans. Hill made the promise and Brownback lifted his hold on Stevens.

On October 2, 2008, Lefkowitz met with President Bush and several NSC staffers to discuss the possibility of making one last push on human rights in North Korea. Bush was enthusiastic. Hill, despite his pledge to Brownback and despite the president's enthusiasm, never invited Lefkowitz to join the talks.

When Hill made the rounds on Capitol Hill last Tuesday, he told Brownback that the White House, and specifically National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, blocked him from bringing Lefkowitz to the negotiations with North Korea. Several officials with knowledge of those discussions disputed Hill's story and said, in fact, that NSC and Hadley pushed to include human rights.

Brownback, for one, isn't buying. Although Hill has the support of several important backers--former ambassador Ryan Crocker, Republican senator Richard Lugar, and Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno--Brownback may still place a hold on his nomination.

"He didn't follow the law," Brownback told me, referring to the North Korean Human Rights Act. "He misled me completely. He was very difficult to deal with. And the six-party talks failed."
Brownback is undeterred by arguments that there is an urgency to fill the post in Baghdad. "People wanted someone at Treasury quickly and looked past [Timothy] Geithner's problems--tax evasion and his time at the New York Fed. We need to take the time to get the right person in the job. I appreciate what Petraeus and Odierno are saying. But we need someone who will follow the law and the direction of the president."

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

Britain Fights Home-Grown Islamists - The Labour government unveils a new antiterror strategy

Britain Fights Home-Grown Islamists. WSJ Editorial
The Labour government unveils a new antiterror strategy.
WSJ, Mar 26, 2009

The only good news from a British security report published this week -- that al Qaeda is "likely to fragment" -- comes with a scary caveat: Islamist splinter groups will continue Osama bin Laden's work and could prove just as dangerous, if not more so.

The possibility of a WMD attack against Britain has never been as grave as it is today, the government report warned: "Changing technology and the theft and smuggling of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive materials make this aspiration more realistic than it may have been in the recent past."

This dire outlook may have triggered the long overdue policy change in London's antiterrorism strategy, announced Tuesday by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. The new objective is to address the real root cause of Islamist terrorism -- its ideology. Ms. Smith promised that the government would "challenge" Muslims in Britain who may not support violence but who reject "our shared values" -- such as democracy and the rule of law -- and promote hatred toward women, homosexuals and other religions and ethnicities. While not criminalizing such ideology, Ms. Smith said, "we should all stand up for our shared values and not concede the floor to those who dismiss them."

This may sound like common sense, but it's actually a dramatic change from past British policy. Until now, the Labour government has "engaged" nonviolent extremists, believing they could help in the fight against violent extremists. To justify this approach, the government dumbed down the definition of "moderate" Muslim to include those who claim to reject terrorism but still support a global caliphate, oppose democracy and justify suicide bombings outside Britain as "resistance." The assumption was that only "moderates" who hold such radical views possess the credibility to dissuade young Muslims from the path of jihad.

The consequences of this policy have been predictably devastating. "The effect has been to empower reactionaries within Muslim communities and to marginalize genuine moderates," according to a study published this month by the think tank Policy Exchange. "The link between non-violent and violent extremism is habitually underplayed." Policy Exchange also found that the government spent almost £90 million over the past three years on nonviolent radical Islamic groups, "underwriting the very Islamist ideology which spawns an illiberal, intolerant and anti-Western world view."

Hazel Blears, secretary of state for communities and local government, has long pushed for changing this approach and seems to have made a start. This week she suspended ties with the Muslim Council of Britain -- once the Labour government's favorite Muslim organization -- because its deputy secretary general, Daud Abdullah, signed a declaration in Istanbul last month that calls for jihad against Israel and any country supporting it, which could include Britain.

The Labour government shares much of the blame for making radical Muslim views respectable in the eyes of British Muslims who may have otherwise shunned them. In the process, it has endangered Britain's national security and that of its allies. Most of Britain's 2,000 terror suspects are home-grown and U.S. officials have warned that British Islamists entering the U.S. under the visa-waiver program pose a severe threat to homeland security.

The threat of a terror attack against Britain, including during next week's G-20 financial summit in London, is "severe," Home Secretary Smith said this week -- meaning "it's highly likely" and "could happen without warning."

The break from the policy of courting radical Muslims is long overdue. Britain, and its allies, will be safer for it.

WaPo's Jay Mathews now calls for the end of the DC Opportunity Scholarship program

Women’s Suffrage Abandoned. “Too Unpopular,” says Anthony. By Andrew J. Coulson
Cato at Liberty, Mar 25, 2009

Reversing his earlier support for private school choice in the District of Columbia, Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews now calls for the end of the DC Opportunity Scholarship program. Why? “Vouchers help [low income] kids, but not enough of them. The vouchers are too at odds with the general public view of education. They don’t have much of a future.”

So private school choice programs work, but because they are not growing quite fast enough for Mr. Mathews’ taste we should abandon the entire enterprise? Why keep striving for total victory when can seize defeat today!

The thing is, major social changes are usually, what’s the word… oh yes: hard. Susan B. Anthony co-founded the National Women’s Suffrage Association in 1869. She died in 1906 – 14 years, 5 months and five days before passage of the 19th Amendment. If a social reform is right and just, it will inspire reformers who will fight for it every bit as long as it takes.

And even those who decide what social reforms to support based on their popularity should take note that school choice programs are proliferating all over the country. And newer tax credit programs, such as Florida’s, Pennsylvania’s, and Arizona’s, are all growing at a faster rate than older voucher programs like the one in Milwaukee. More than that, the politics of school choice have already begun to change at the state level. While Democrats in Congress had no qualms slipping a shiv into the futures of 1,700 poor kids, more and more of their fellow party members at the state level are deciding to back educational freedom.

A Maker of History: John Hope Franklin, 1915-2009

A Maker of History. WaPo Editorial
John Hope Franklin, 1915-2009
WaPo, Thursday, March 26, 2009; 20

Among scholars of the American past, John Hope Franklin, who died Wednesday at 94, was a rarity: He not only studied history; he made it. This should not have been necessary. But the culture into which Mr. Franklin was born in 1915 was distorted by racial discrimination. As a young African American pursuing a Harvard doctorate in history, he had to overcome not only the normal rigors of academia, but also racial insults -- the most stinging of which might have been the fact that American history, as it had been written until then, basically omitted people of color. And so, at a time when it took courage for him to visit certain libraries, Mr. Franklin set out to correct the record. "My challenge," Mr. Franklin once said, "was to weave into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly."

His magisterial study of the American black experience, "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans," was a revelation when it appeared in 1947 -- to be followed by books and articles on Reconstruction, the martial culture of the antebellum South, runaway slaves and many other subjects. Each one is a model of graceful prose, meticulously documented and free of bias or cant. The quality of Mr. Franklin's writings made him the first black chairman of a history department at a predominantly white institution, Brooklyn College, in 1956. Later came appointments at the University of Chicago and Duke, and teaching assignments at Howard and Cambridge universities and elsewhere. Along the way he assisted Thurgood Marshall's legal team in Brown v. Board of Education, served in government and accumulated more academic honors than we have space to mention. In 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Ever the mild-mannered academic, Mr. Franklin tended orchids at his Durham, N.C., home. But he never lost his outrage at the injustice he and other blacks had experienced. Toward the end of his life, he spoke of the need for the United States to apologize for the historical wrongs of slavery and segregation and compensate the victims. "I don't see any reason why I should get over that kind of exploitation," he told an interviewer. Yet he also called on young African Americans to make the most of their opportunities, notwithstanding residual racism. Last year, as then-candidate Barack Obama neared the presidency, Mr. Franklin found himself swept up in the excitement of a campaign that brought together whites and blacks "like this is a natural thing," as he put it in an interview with The Post. In his long and extraordinarily productive life, Mr. Franklin himself did much to bring about new attitudes and new possibilities. By changing his country's perception of itself, Mr. Franklin changed his country.

Libertarian: Don't Provoke a Cap-and-Trade War

Don't Provoke a Cap-and-Trade War. By Will Wilkinson
Marketplace, March 25, 2009.

Last week, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the U.S. should be open to slapping tariffs on imports from countries that fail to implement their own carbon reduction policies. Meanwhile, China has threatened trade war if faced with carbon duties, which it says are illegal under World Trade Organization agreements.

Trade restrictions tend to leave all involved poor, making trade war a frightening prospect during an already immiserating recession. So how did we come to have the Energy Secretary provoking threats of mutually destructive trade sanctions?

Here's how. Either all the big, carbon-intensive economies reduce their emissions, or there's little chance of reducing warming. If the climate modelers are right, we'll all be better off if everyone pitches in. But each has an incentive to hold out, since countries that don't pitch in will enjoy lower energy costs and a competitive advantage in international markets.

Chu rightly points out that Obama's proposed cap and-trade scheme will put American manufacturers at a relative disadvantage. So how do we avoid this, and make sure countries like China don't get a leg up?

In short, we can't. There is no mechanism, no global government, to compel compliance. And it is dangerously naive to think that China, who is the world's largest owner of dollar-denominated assets, is in a weaker bargaining position than the U.S. We poke the dragon at our peril.

Cap-and-trade is sure to raise costs for struggling American consumers. But it won't much reduce warming unless countries like China and India fall in line. Yet neither the U.S. nor Europe can just force this to happen. If we try by imposing carbon duties, we'll hurt consumers even more by raising the cost of imports, and possibly start a trade war no one will win.

Chu's remarks highlight the fact that cap-and-trade is a costly, risky gambit. But now's not the time. Suffering workers and consumers can't afford to lose again.

US Provides $3.7 million to Assist Senegal with Food Security

USAID Provides $3.7 million to Assist with Global Food Security in Senegal
US State Dept, March 25, 2009

DAKAR, SENEGAL - The U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is providing more than $3.7 million in assistance to lower rates of malnutrition and increase food security of families in Senegal.

Of this $3.7 million, USAID is providing $2.7 million to improve community-based nutrition efforts and agriculture production in the regions of Ziguinchor, Sedhiou and Kolda in Senegal. The program, implemented by USAID partners Catholic Relief Services and Christian Children's Fund, will provide community-based nutrition programs for malnourished children; build community awareness for the importance of good nutrition and how to prevent malnutrition; educate farmers on the benefits of improved seed varieties; organize seed fairs that will make improved seed varieties available; and provide microloans to community-based groups.

USAID is also providing $1.05 million to the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) to provide regional coordination of food security and agriculture efforts. With this funding, FAO will strengthen livelihoods and improve the nutritional status of the most vulnerable households affected by rising food prices.

"USAID's assistance will help thousands of families struggling to cope with the immediate impacts of the global food and financial crisis on their households," said Regina Davis, Principal Regional Advisor of USAID/OFDA's Regional Office for West and North Africa. "These projects will provide viable alternatives to increase self-sufficiency and lower overall malnutrition rates in vulnerable households."

Federal President Mobilizes EPA Troops for War on Coal

Obama Mobilizes EPA Troops for War on Coal
Agency to Kill Jobs, Prevent Access to America’s Cheapest, Most Abundant Energy Resource
IER, March 25, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Institute for Energy Research President (IER) Thomas J. Pyle issued the following statement today in response to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to place a strict and indefinite moratorium on new mountaintop mining projects—a decision about which Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and others in the Appalachian region are “very concerned.”

“President Obama has made his intentions to bankrupt the coal industry clear. EPA’s actions this week demonstrate that he will wage a war against the energy source that generates half of America’s electricity and is our nation’s most abundant, reliable, and affordable energy resource.

“Even more dismal are estimates that show how this action will affect the 65,000 members of the Appalachian workforce who stand to lose some of the best, highest-paying jobs available in the region. That’s not to mention the $12 billion in lost economic development that an area already wrestling with our current economic downturn will have to reconcile.

“Evidently and regrettably, the president’s plan to redistribute the country’s wealth won’t make anyone any richer; instead it’ll eliminate jobs and increase energy costs until all Americans face equally devastating economic struggles.”

NOTE: The average American miner earns $66,000 each year – nearly 60 percent more than the average wage for industrial jobs. It is unclear whether miners are eager to trade the high-paying jobs they have now, for low-paying, government-sponsored “green jobs” that may or may not exist in the future.

More from IER on domestic energy policy:

IER Analyses: Coal Overview and Coal Facts Sheet
Press Release: Interior Decision Locks Away American Energy Resource Larger than Middle East Reserves
Blog Posting: Obama’s Budget Includes Biggest Tax Increase in U.S. History

North Korea places Taepodong-2 missile on launch pad

North Korea places Taepodong-2 missile on launch pad
Japan Today, Thursday 26th March, 03:22 AM JST

North Korea has positioned what is believed to be a Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile on the launch pad at a facility in Musudanri, sources close to Japan-U.S. relations said Wednesday night. North Korea has said it plans to send a satellite into orbit from the facility between April 4 and 8. But Japan, the United States and South Korea suspect the planned launch may actually be a test-firing of a ballistic missile.

NBC television, quoting U.S. officials, said in its online edition Wednesday that while two stages of the missile can be seen on the launch pad, the top is covered with a shroud supported by a crane. But now that the missile is on the pad, the launch itself could come within a matter of days, NBC said.

North Korea has informed the International Maritime Organization of the plan and warned that the first stage of the rocket will fall into the Sea of Japan while the second stage will fall into the northern Pacific Ocean. The Japanese government also received the information from Pyongyang.

Japan is expected to issue an order for the destruction of debris from the missile in case its planned launch fails.

North Korea launched a Taepodong-1 missile in August 1998, part of which flew over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.

A Taepodong-2 missile is believed to have a range of more than 6,000 kilometers. Its test launch in July 2006 apparently ended in failure.