North Korea may test more missiles


North Korea may test more missiles after yesterday's firing of seven rockets, South Korea's Defense Minister said, as the United Nations Security Council considered a diplomatic response. “Based on North Korea's preparations and activities in the last two months, and on the equipment and materials that have been going in and out of North Korea, I would say there is yet the possibility that it may fire more missiles,'' Defense Minister Yoon Kwang Ung said today in Seoul. Japan responded to the tests by banning North Korean ships and government personnel from crossing its borders. It proposed a draft UN resolution demanding a halt to North Korea's development and testing of missiles and a return to six-nation talks on ending the North Korean nuclear program. There wasn't any talk of “punitive measures'' among Security Council members, Vitalij Churkin, Russia's UN ambassador, said yesterday. “We are making it clear to North Korea this has been a deplorable development, and we should work toward a diplomatic resolution,'' Churkin said. Security Council members will resume discussions on a resolution at 10 a.m. New York time today. Japan's proposal asks governments to block money, goods and technology intended to support North Korean programs for weapons of mass destruction. The tests yesterday included a failed launch of a Taepodong 2 long-range missile, which US officials said may be able to reach Alaska. The missile fell into the sea after 40 seconds, US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said. North Korea may be preparing to test a second Taepodong 2 missile, “NBC Nightly News'' reported, citing unidentified U.S. intelligence officials. The second missile is in final assembly and isn't yet on the launch pad, according to the report. Further missile launches cannot be ruled out, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said in Tokyo. There aren't any indications that another Taepodong-2 launch is imminent, he said. Four short- or medium-range missiles may be test-fired in the next five days, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported, citing an unidentified South Korean government official. “It's more likely that with any further missile tests in the short term they will be the short-range missiles,'' Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in Canberra. Christopher Hill, the chief US envoy to the six-nation talks, plans to arrive in China tomorrow. He will also visit South Korea, Japan and Russia, the other countries involved in the forum. Talks ended in November without agreement after the countries in September called for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

North Korea considers its missile tests are an internal affair, Japan's Yomiuri newspaper reported, citing Ri Pyong Dok, a researcher in charge of Japanese affairs and North Korea's Foreign Ministry. “The missile issue is something that concerns our country's autonomy,'' Ri was cited saying yesterday. “Nobody has the right to discuss the rights and wrongs of this issue and we will not be restricted by any agreements related thereto.'' His comments are the first by a North Korean official on the missile tests, Yomiuri said. "The successful missile launches were part of our military's regular military drills to strengthen self-defence," the North's foreign ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. "Our military will continue with missile launch drills in the future," it added, insisting such action was "our legal right".

President George W. Bush and Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in a telephone call today, agreed to support a Security Council resolution opposing missile launches by North Korea, Japan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, in a phone call today, agreed to work together to settle the problem through diplomatic efforts with other involved countries, South Korea's presidential office said. They described the North Korean tests as a “serious provocative act,'' according to a statement from the office in Seoul.

China's government, which has close ties to North Korea, said it was “seriously'' concerned by the missile firings and appealed for calm. Bush won't allow the US to be drawn into direct talks with North Korea as a result of the missile firings, his spokesman Tony Snow, said in Washington yesterday. “If it was the desire of Kim Jong Il to turn this into two- party talks with the United States, he blew it,'' Snow said, referring to the North Korean leader. North Korea, with a population of about 23 million, is economically and politically isolated from much of the world. It ranks 193rd on a list of countries measured by gross domestic product per capita, tied with Haiti, according to the US government. North Korea fired a long-range Taepodong 1 missile that flew over Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean in 1998. It has test-fired short-range missiles since then, including a test of two missiles in March. (Bloomberg, BBC NEWS)

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