N. Korea Warned On Testing Missile

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned North Korea yesterday that the launch of a long-range ballistic missile would be "a very serious matter and indeed a provocative act" that would "deepen its isolation."

Rice's remarks, made at a news conference with the Spanish foreign minister, are the latest in a series of warnings to Pyongyang not to end a 1999 self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile testing. U.S. diplomats have also worked closely with foreign counterparts to send a consistent message to the North Korean government ever since U.S. spy satellites detected signs of launch preparation.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, a close U.S. ally, said in Tokyo yesterday that Japan "would have to respond harshly" if there was a missile test.

An actual missile launch, however, may test that unity. Chinese and South Korean officials have privately indicated they are not as inflexible about the meaning of the missile moratorium and may be more willing to accept North Korea's explanations, U.S. officials said. South Korean officials, skeptical about U.S. intelligence, have suggested that because North Korea has been so public about the preparations, it is more likely trying to launch a satellite, not conduct a military test.

Six-nation talks seeking to end North Korea's nuclear programs in exchange for economic and political incentives have been stalled since last fall, with North Korea refusing to return to negotiations because it is angry at a Treasury Department crackdown on its counterfeiting of U.S. dollars.

U.S. officials have searched for ways to lure North Korea back to the talks, but Rice suggested that a test would result in a push to bring new sanctions against Pyongyang. U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton said yesterday that he has begun preliminary consultations with other Security Council members about a possible resolution.

A test "would once again show North Korea determined to deepen its isolation, determined not to take a path that is a path of compromise and a path of peace, but rather instead to once again saber-rattle," Rice said. "It would be a very serious matter indeed."

Rice said a launch would be an "abrogation of obligations" in the missile moratorium, adding that the freeze was also part of the agreement last September that set out the negotiating principles for the disarmament talks.

U.S. allies in the region have pressed the Bush administration to try harder to return North Korea to the talks, including by ending the financial crackdown. During Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington in April, President Bush privately reaffirmed that the United States was committed to the six-nation talks but would not end the Treasury Department actions, a senior U.S. official said.

U.S officials have examined intelligence that suggests North Korea may be preparing to test a Taepodong-2 missile from a remote village on North Korea's northeast coast. But three senior U.S. officials said Sunday and Monday that reports that North Korea appeared to have completed fueling the missile are based on incomplete intelligence.

U.S. satellites have observed liquid fuel canisters being placed near the missile, but officials said there was no confirmation that fueling took place. "We can't say anything for sure," said one top official with access to the intelligence.

Loading fuel into the rocket boosters for the Taepodong-2 missile would almost certainly suggest a launch will take place, because it is difficult to siphon out the fuel. But North Korea has a long history of doing things simply for the benefit of American satellites -- and to bring the world's attention back to the Stalinist state.

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