North Korea Tests Long-Range Missile
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
North Korea test-fired at least six missiles yesterday, including its long-range Taepodong-2, senior U.S. officials said, defying strong warnings from the United States and regional powers in Asia.
The controversial long-range missile failed less than a minute after launch, falling into the Sea of Japan, along with the other, less-sophisticated missiles. Diplomatic and military officials played down any imminent threat, but Stephen J. Hadley, President Bush's national security adviser, called the display of firepower on the Fourth of July "provocative behavior."
In addition to prompting swift condemnation in Washington and Japan, the launches set off a flurry of diplomatic consultations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began calling Asian capitals that were waking to the news, and the U.N. Security Council was set to take up the matter today. Meanwhile, a special U.S. envoy, Christopher R. Hill, was dispatched to consult with allies.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Tokyo was likely to impose economic sanctions against North Korea in response to the missile tests; Japanese authorities said they would begin by banning North Korean ships from Japanese ports for six months or more.
In Pyongyang, an official from North Korea's communist government met with Japanese reporters and acknowledged the missile launches. Japan's NHK television quoted Foreign Ministry official Lee Byong Dok as saying: "This is an issue of national sovereignty, and other countries do not have the right to judge. We are not bound by any agreement regarding missiles."
Over the past several weeks, U.S. intelligence officials had warned of a possible long-range missile test by North Korea, and the issue became the subject of increasingly acrimonious exchanges between the United States and North Korea. Pyongyang's main benefactors, China and South Korea, as well as Japan and other nations had urged the North not to proceed with a test. Last night, Hadley said the launch "just shows the defiance of the international community by North Korea."
The tests could further isolate North Korea and tilt U.S. policy in favor of Bush administration hard-liners who have argued that stronger sanctions are the only way to bring North Korea back to the table in stalled disarmament talks.
In Japan, U.S. Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer told reporters that he and Japanese officials had discussed the possibility of getting the U.N. Security Council to impose economic sanctions on Pyongyang.
In a nationally televised announcement in South Korea, Suh Choo Suk, senior presidential secretary for security policy, said the North's "provocative act" would deepen its isolation and affect inter-Korean ties.
The South Korean government has said it would punish Pyongyang in the event of a missile test by curbing the massive investment and humanitarian aid that has formed an integral part of its rapprochement with the North in recent years. President Roh Moo Hyun is now likely to face international and domestic pressure to follow through. A scaling back of financial assistance to the North by South Korea and China is considered key to the success of any international sanctions against Pyongyang.
North Korea last test-fired a long-range missile in 1998; it had observed a moratorium on such launches since 1999. Hadley said that although the test was a clear violation of that moratorium, it offered the United States important insight about North Korea's weapons capabilities: "The Taepodong is a failure. That tells you something about capabilities." North Korea's intentions were left unclear, he said.
"It's hard to get a sense of what they think could be achieved by this," he told reporters. "This is something we've been seeing coming for a while, so it's not a particular surprise."