Saturday, June 17, 2006

Japan Fears Imminent Missile Test By North Korea

Washington warned Pyongyang not to proceed with a long-range missile test that North Korea may be planning to conduct as early as this weekend. Sean McCormack, State department spokesman, said the US would view a test as a “provocative” act. Japan said a test of a long-range Taepodong-2 missile would violate a 2002 agreement between Pyongyang and Tokyo. Shinzo Abe, chief cabinet secretary and a leading candidate to succeed Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister in September, told reporters: “If North Korea launches a missile that directly affects Japan’s security, it would be a violation of the Pyongyang Declaration.” The declaration was signed when Mr Koizumi met Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, in North Korea in 2002. The agreement included a pledge to freeze indefinitely tests of missiles capable of reaching Japan, Mr Abe said.His comments followed a report in the Financial Times on Friday that the US believed North Korean preparations for a possible long-range missile test had advanced significantly to the point where Pyongyang could launch a Taepodong-2 on “very short notice”. Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton, two Democrats on the Senate armed services committee, this week called on President George W. Bush to develop a strategy to deal with North Korea. “We may be approaching the nightmare scenario in which our only option is to negotiate with a North Korea that can attack the US with a nuclear weapon instead of a North Korea that is still working towards that capability,” the senators wrote in a letter to President Bush. The US has been monitoring activity at a launch site in North Korea for weeks following indications that Pyongyang was preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile – which the US Defence Intelligence Agency estimates could potentially reach most parts of the US - for the first time. In 1998, Pyongyang stunned the US and Japan by firing an intermediate range Taepodong-1 missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean. While US intelligence shows test preparations are advanced, Washington does not know whether Kim Jong-il will go ahead with a politically inflammatory test.
Kim Jong-il Tests The Latest North Korean Technology
Many analysts in Seoul say Pyongyang is unlikely to test because of the hardline response it would invite and the possibility that the technology could fail. A US Senate aide said Pyongyang was probably trying to gain attention at a time when Washington has been predominantly focused on Iran. The Pentagon has positioned military assets to deal with any launch, while US and South Korean officials have urged North Korea to abandon any test. South Korea is “bracing” for a possible missile launch, Ban Ki-moon, South Korea’s foreign minister, said. North Korea has a history of performing eye-catching stunts, and a South Korean government official said Pyongyang had political rather than military aims.