Monday, June 19, 2006

Japan Warns North Korea Missile Launch Would Be Viewed As 'Attack'

Japan warned North Korea today it would view any test-fired missile that landed on Japanese soil as an attack, after reports the secretive nation is preparing a new missile launch. Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Tokyo is ready to slap sanctions on the North, which surprised the world by firing a missile over Japan in 1998 without warning. He said any repeat launch would lead immediately to the UN Security Council. "If they failed and the missile dropped on ... Japan, things would be complicated," Aso said on Japanese television. "It will be regarded as an attack." Reports of the imminent test of a long-range missile with the range to hit parts of the United States have drawn stiff warnings from Washington as well as from Japan and South Korea. Japan's Sankei Shimbun newspaper, citing unnamed Japanese government sources, said citizens of the Stalinist state had been advised to raise the national flag at 0500 GMT and watch a message on television.But that time passed without word of any launch, and South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited an official as saying that a similar call to citizens was issued last year on June 18 as part of an unrelated domestic anniversary. North Korea last year said it had nuclear weapons and since November has boycotted six-nation talks on its atomic drive, saying it will not come back to the bargaining table until the United States lifts sanctions on it. "We will immediately appeal to the United Nations Security Council if North Korea test-fires a missile and threatens Japan's national security," Aso said. "That's a matter of course -- and the United States will support us." Aso also said Tokyo was ready to impose economic sanctions against North Korea in retaliation. "We have already finished legal procedures to take action," he said. "The next step is to put that in motion."Washington is a permanent Security Council member together with Britain, China, Russia and France, while Tokyo holds one of the non-permanent, rotating seats on the 15-member council. Thomas Schieffer, the US ambassador to Japan, said yesterday there were signs the North was preparing a missile launch and warned that such a move would be "grave and provocative." But Schieffer declined to give a time-frame for a launch of a Taepodong-2 missile, which has a range of 3,500 to 6,000 kilometers. In South Korea, a defense ministry spokesman declined to comment on any North Korean preparations but said his country's military alert level had not been changed. "The military is on the same level of alert as usual. There has been no upgrade in the military alert yet," the spokesman said.