N. Korea Test-Fires Missiles as South Launches U.S.-Equipped Destroyer

By Hans Greimel
Associated Press
Saturday, May 26, 2007

SEOUL, May 25 -- North Korea fired a salvo of short-range test missiles into its coastal waters Friday, flexing naval muscles as South Korea launched its most advanced destroyer, armed with a high-tech U.S. air defense system.

The moves came during a continued standoff over implementing communist North Korea's promise to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. The divided Koreas are scheduled to hold high-level reconciliation talks in Seoul in several days.

Reaction to the missile launches was muted -- unlike the response in July to the North's test of a long-range missile capable of hitting Japan and perhaps parts of the United States, and in October to the North's underground detonation of a nuclear weapon.

South Korea said that Friday's missile test apparently was part of the North's annual military exercises and involved short-range missiles, adding that the firings were unlikely to derail next week's talks.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the United States viewed the test "as a routine exercise that they do from time to time."

U.S. criticism of the communist government has been muted recently, reflecting the eagerness of American officials to make progress on the nuclear disarmament accord with the North that has been stalled by a financial dispute.

At least some of the missiles were fired off North Korea's eastern coast into the sea between Japan and the Korean Peninsula.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the action "extremely regrettable." While saying the test was not a "serious" threat to Japan's national security, he said it undermined international trust in North Korea's reclusive government.

The test firing came as South Korea celebrated the launch of a new destroyer equipped with Aegis radar, a system that will greatly enhance the South's ability to locate, track and shoot down North Korean aircraft and missiles. South Korea is one of only five nations armed with the U.S. technology.

The 7,600-ton, KDX-III-class destroyer set sail Friday afternoon from the southern port city of Ulsan. Its Aegis combat system is able to detect and trace about 1,000 targets and then attack 20 of them at the same time, South Korea's navy said in a statement.

South Korea and Japanese analysts said the missile test was most likely a response to the South's new ship. "North Korea fired them as a warning to South Korea's deployment of its Aegis-equipped destroyer," said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a North Korea expert at Japan's Waseda University. "This shows North Korea, whose navy is rather small, is extremely alarmed."

North Korea has agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program under an accord with the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia but has yet to take steps to dismantle it.


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