N. Korea Seen Moving Missile to Launchpad

"We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on . . . Asia -- or on us," said U.S. defense chief Robert M. Gates.
"We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on . . . Asia -- or on us," said U.S. defense chief Robert M. Gates. (Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison -- Defense Department Via Associated Press)

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By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 31, 2009

TOKYO, May 30 -- North Korea, which launched a long-range missile over Japan in April, appeared Saturday to be moving another one to a launchpad.

Reports that a large rocket was moving by train toward North Korea's east coast punctuated a tense week on the Korean Peninsula. It began Monday with the North's underground test of a nuclear device, included the firing of six short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan, and featured a declaration by the government of Kim Jong Il that the truce that ended the Korean War was null and void.

In Singapore at a regional defense meeting, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates signaled that the United States and many of North Korea's neighbors are getting fed up.

"We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in Asia -- or on us," Gates said, according to the Associated Press. He did not call North Korea's nuclear program a direct threat to the United States but said it was a "harbinger of a dark future."

Gates told defense officials at the meeting that the U.S. government understands and disdains the game of brinkmanship North Korea is playing.

"They create a crisis, and the rest of us pay the price to return to the status quo ante," he said. "As the expression goes in the U.S., I'm tired of buying the same horse twice.

"There are other ways perhaps to get the North Koreans to change their approach," Gates said. "I think this notion that we buy our way back to the status quo ante is an approach that I personally at least think we ought to think very hard about."

North Korean leaders have said this year that they want to be recognized as a nuclear power, but Gates said the United States would not do so.

The missile recently spotted on a cargo train resembled the Taepodong II missile that North Korea launched over northern Japan into the Pacific Ocean on April 5, an unnamed official told Yonhap, the South Korean news agency.

Yonhap quoted other South Korean officials as saying that activity had been spotted around a factory in the North known to build long-range missiles.

The long-range launch in April, which violated U.N. resolutions and triggered condemnation from the U.N. Security Council, demonstrated to U.S. experts that North Korea has made notable progress in multistage rocket technology.

Once North Korea perfects a three-stage intercontinental ballistic missile the size of the Taepodong II, experts say, it may have enough range to strike the western United States.


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