WASHINGTON -North Korea's planned missile launch is designed to demonstrate its ability to carry out an intercontinental military strike, a top U.S. official said Thursday, brushing aside Pyongyang's assertions that it is merely sending a satellite into space.
"Most of the world understands the game they are playing," said Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair. "I think they're risking international opprobrium and hopefully worse if they successfully launch it."
Blair's comments represented the most pointed U.S. challenge so far to Pyongyang's repeated assertions that its planned rocket launch is for peaceful purposes.
Recent satellite images indicate that North Korea is in the final stages of assembling a multistage rocket on a launch platform along the country's east coast.
The move is seen by some experts as an effort by Pyongyang to command attention from Washington at a time when the Obama administration is focused on other international issues, including the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
Blair's remarks are the most recent in an escalating exchange between the countries that has heightened concerns over prospects for restarting diplomatic talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
The multiparty talks called for the West to supply North Korea with much-needed aid and other concessions in return for dismantling its weapons program.
North Korea has said that it intends to launch the missile between April 4 and 8, a period when President Barack Obama will be visiting world leaders abroad.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned this week that "there will be consequences" if North Korea goes forward with the launch.
In turn, Pyongyang has threatened to reverse the steps it has taken on disarmament if any sanctions are imposed.