U.S. Rejects Suggestion to Strike N. Korea Before It Fires Missile

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 23, 2006

Senior Bush administration officials tried to ease tensions yesterday over a possible North Korean missile launch, playing down the idea of using the nascent missile defense system and brushing aside a provocative proposal to launch a preemptive strike against the missile site.

The officials, including Vice President Cheney and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, said they were pressing diplomatic options to persuade North Korea not to launch a long-range missile for the first time since 1998. "We think diplomacy is the right answer, and that is what we are pursuing," Hadley told reporters who were with President Bush in Budapest.

Writing in The Washington Post yesterday, former defense secretary William J. Perry and former assistant secretary of defense Ashton B. Carter contended that diplomacy has failed and that Bush should launch a preemptive strike against the facility on the northeastern coast of North Korea, where Pyongyang may be preparing a missile for a test launch.

"I appreciate Bill's advice," Cheney said in an interview with CNN. "I think, obviously, if you're going to launch strikes at another nation, you'd better be prepared to not just fire one shot. And, the fact of the matter is, I think the issue is being addressed appropriately."

Cheney minimized the threat posed by North Korea to the United States, saying that its "missile capabilities are fairly rudimentary" and that "their test flights in the past haven't been notably successful."

U.S. analysts say that they believe North Korea is preparing to launch a missile but that the satellite evidence is not conclusive. U.S. officials say that spy satellites have observed the stacking of a missile and propellant loading trucks near the site, but that there is no confirmation that the missile has been fueled. South Korea's defense minister said yesterday that Seoul believes a launch is not imminent

Hadley suggested it would be a stretch to suggest that the U.S. missile defense system could intercept and destroy a North Korean missile. "It is a research, development and testing capability that has some limited operational capability," he said.

The U.S. officials spoke after Russia and China, two key North Korean allies, publicly expressed concern about a possible launch, adding weight to the alarm expressed earlier in the week by Japan and South Korea.

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