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Wednesday, July 5, 2006 - Page updated at 08:54 AM

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North Korea test-fires six missiles despite warnings

The Associated Press

TOKYO — A defiant North Korea test-fired a long-range missile that may be capable of reaching America, but it failed seconds after launch, U.S. officials said. The North also tested at least five shorter-range missiles in an exercise the White House called "a provocation" but not an immediate threat.

Ignoring stern U.S. and Japanese warnings, the isolated communist nation carried out the audacious military tests as the U.S. celebrated the Fourth of July and launched the space shuttle.

None of the missiles made it as far as Japan. The Japanese government said all landed in the Sea of Japan between Japan and the Korean Peninsula.

"We do consider it provocative behavior," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said.

Japan protested the tests, and the U.N. Security Council was set to take up the matter today.

"We will take stern measures," said Japan's chief government spokesman, Shinzo Abe, adding that sanctions were a possibility. He said the launch violated a longstanding moratorium, and that Tokyo was not given prior notification by Pyongyang.

In Pyongyang, North Korean officials met with Japanese reporters and acknowledged firing the missiles, calling the launches "an issue of national sovereignty," Japan's NHK television said.

The arsenal


North Korea has more than 800 ballistic missiles.

Scud-type missiles include the Hwasong-5, with a range of about 190 miles, and the Hwasong-6, with a range of about 315 miles.

The Rodong has an estimated range of 600 to 880 miles.

The Taepodong-2 is a multistage missile with a possible range of 4,300 miles that could put parts of Alaska in range.

Reuters

The U.S. administration reacted quickly but made it clear its response would not involve military action.

President Bush has been in consultation with Hadley, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The State Department said Rice will confer with her counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Hadley said the long-range missile was the Taepodong-2, which failed 35 seconds after launch. Experts believe the Taepodong-2 — Korea's most advanced missile — could reach the United States with a light payload.

The State Department said the smaller missiles included shorter-range Scuds and Rodongs.

The launch came after weeks of speculation that the North was preparing to test the Taepodong-2 from a site on its northeast coast. The preparations had generated stern warnings from the United States and Japan.

U.S. officials said the missiles were launched over a four-hour period beginning early today.

Meanwhile, the North American Aerospace Defense Command — which monitors the skies for threats to North American security — said it has been on heightened alert for about two weeks and not because of the latest tests.

The current "Bravo-Plus" status is slightly higher than a medium threat level, NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek said.

Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state, is set to head to Asia today, and Hadley is to meet with his South Korean counterpart, a meeting in Washington that already had been scheduled, the White House said.

North Korea had observed a moratorium on long-range missile launches since 1999, after it shocked the world in 1998 by firing a Taepodong missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.

All the missiles today apparently landed within 400 miles of the Japanese coast, with the last landing approximately 312 miles northwest of Japan's western city of Niigata, Japanese officials in Tokyo said.

U.S. surveillance observed all the launches, said an official at the Pentagon who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"None posed a threat," a Pentagon spokesman said in an e-mail account of the incident, and "no action [was] required." The Taepodong-2 missile failed after about 35 seconds, he said.

There were South Korean news reports that 10 missiles had been launched, but those reports could not be immediately confirmed.

On Monday, the North's main news agency quoted an unidentified newspaper analyst as saying Pyongyang was prepared to answer a U.S. military attack with "a relentless annihilating strike and a nuclear war."

The Bush administration responded by saying that while it had no intention of attacking, it was determined to protect the United States if North Korea launched a long-range missile.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns also warned North Korea on Monday against firing the missile and urged the communist country to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear program.

The six-party talks, suspended by North Korea, involved negotiations by the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia with Pyongyang over the country's nuclear program.

A senior State Department official said today's tests were "an affront to everybody, not just us" and they would likely have a big effect on South Korean public opinion, which is already impatient with the one-way flow of humanitarian assistance meant to induce the isolated North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to join the world community.

The failure of diplomacy is also likely to embarrass China. North Korea's biggest benefactor, China has called on Pyongyang to return to a new round of nuclear disarmament talks, which have been stalled for the past six months. China's ability to prod the North Koreans back to the table was considered a key test of Beijing's aspirations for increased diplomatic clout.

"The Chinese will be furious," the State Department official said.

The United States, South Korea and Japan have taken quick steps over the past week to strengthen their missile defenses. Washington and Tokyo are working on a joint missile-defense shield, and South Korea is considering the purchase of American SM-2 defensive missiles for its destroyers.

The U.S. and North Korea have been in a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear-weapons program since 2002. The North claims to have produced nuclear weapons, but that claim has not been publicly verified by outside analysts.

While public information on North Korea's military capabilities is murky, experts doubt that the regime has managed to develop a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on its long-range missiles.

Nonetheless, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told U.S. lawmakers last week that officials took the potential launch reports seriously and were looking at the full range of capabilities possessed by North Korea.

Information from The Washington Post is included in this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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