Senior intelligence officials told South Korean lawmakers Wednesday that the projectile being prepared for launch in North Korea appears to be a long-range missile, not a satellite as claimed by the communist country.
The assessment came a day after North Korea announced it was preparing to send a satellite into orbit.
On Wednesday, the National Intelligence Service officials told a parliamentary committee meeting that they believe the North was preparing to launch a missile because the object's shape "is similar to" the country's long-range Taepodong missile, according to the office of lawmaker Park Young-sun, who attended the closed-door session.
In 1998, North Korea test-fired a Taepodong-1 ballistic missile over Japan and then claimed to have put a satellite into orbit. The country test-launched a Taepodong-2 missile believed capable of reaching Alaska in 2006, but it plunged into the ocean shortly after liftoff.
Media reports suggest the missile being readied for launch could be an advanced version of the Taepodong-2 with even greater range: the U.S. west coast.
Earlier Wednesday, the North's state media reported leader Kim Jong Il visited the province where Pyongyang says it was preparing to launch a satellite.
The Korean Central News Agency said Kim met workers in Hoeryong, in North Hamgyong Province. Hoeryong is about 110 miles from Hwadae, the county where North Korea said it was preparing for a satellite launch.
Hwadae also is the site for the 2006 test launch of the North's the Taepodong-2 missile.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said it has no evidence linking the North Korean leader's trip with the impending missile launch.
During the parliamentary committee meeting, the NIS officials also told lawmakers that another father-to-son succession appears likely in North Korea, Park said.
Park quoted the NIS officials as saying that it "appears possible" that one of Kim's three sons will inherit leadership because top officials there appeared to have shown little opposition to such a succession.
Kim, who turned 67 last week, has ruled the nuclear-armed North with absolute power since his father and North Korea founder Kim Il Sung died in 1994.
Kim has not anointed his successor, and speculation over who will succeed him has grown since he reportedly suffered a stroke in August.