Monday, May 02, 2005

North Korea Fires Missile Toward The Sea of Japan

The U.S. military informed Japan that North Korea may have fired a short-range missile toward the Sea of Japan on Sunday morning, Kyodo News service and national broadcaster NHK reported. The reports quoted unidentified government sources as saying that the U.S. military informed Japan's Defense Agency of the possible missile launch. The government was attempting to confirm the information, the reports said. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and the U.S. military both refused to comment, and an official at the Japanese Defense Agency said he could not confirm the report. The South Korean defense ministry also said it could not confirm the account. NHK said the missile was believed to have been fired from the reclusive nation's east coast and to have traveled 65 miles into the Sea of Japan. Word of the possible test came just days after a top U.S. military intelligence official told a U.S. Senate committee that North Korea has the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear weapon, a potentially significant advance for the communist state. Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in testimony on Thursday, did not specify whether he was talking about a short-range missile or a long-range one that could reach the United States. Two defense officials later said that U.S. intelligence analysts believe North Korea is several years away from being able to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile that could reach the United States from the Korean Peninsula. North Korea's missile development program has spurred Japan to join the United States in putting together a joint missile-defense system. North Korea startled Tokyo in 1998 by launching a long-range ballistic missile over the Japanese archipelago and into the Pacific Ocean. Pyongyang has played upon the threat by intermittently test-firing short-range missiles since then. The Japanese Cabinet in February approved legislation that would allow the defense chief to order the military to shoot down incoming missiles. Six-nation talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions have been stalled since last June. Washington's top envoy on the issue, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said on Thursday in South Korea that the North's refusal to return to the talks is a problem but they are still the best way to resolve the matter.