North Korea Fires 5 Missiles

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

SEOUL, Oct. 12 -- North Korea fired five short-range missiles into the sea Monday and declared a navigation ban in waters off its eastern and western coasts, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

The launches occurred a week after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il suggested that his country would return to six-nation nuclear disarmament talks, if the North could first hold one-on-one talks with the United States to convert "hostile relations" into "peaceful ties."

North Korea, a leading manufacturer and supplier of missiles and missile parts for the developing world, periodically fires short- and medium-range missiles into waters off both coasts in training exercises. It was not clear whether Monday's launches were part of that routine.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, reacting to reports of the missile launches, said the United States and its allies are trying to demonstrate to North Korea that the international community will not accept its continuing nuclear program.

"Our goals remain the same. We intend to work toward a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula," Clinton said at a news conference in Belfast, where she was traveling.

The missiles were launched into the Sea of Japan off North Korea's eastern coast, Yonhap said, quoting government sources. It said North Korea imposed a navigation ban for Oct. 10-20. Yonhap said the missiles were surface-to-surface KN-02 rockets, with a range of up to 75 miles. The launches were the first since the North fired seven short- and medium-range missiles on July 4.

The South Korean government said it could not confirm the Yonhap report.

North Korea incited international condemnation and was slapped with tough new U.N. sanctions early this year, after it launched a long-range ballistic missile, detonated a nuclear device and repeatedly threatened war against South Korea. The U.N. sanctions bar North Korea from launching long-range missiles but do not apply to short-range rockets.

Since August, the isolated nation seemed to have changed course, shifting from provocation to negotiation. It released two detained American journalists after a surprise visit to Pyongyang by former president Bill Clinton. It also reopened border traffic with South Korea and resumed reunions among families separated by the Korean War.

In a meeting last week in Pyongyang with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Kim suggested that North Korea would come back to the nuclear arms talks, which his government angrily this year as a platform for regime change.

Encouraged by that trip, Wen met in Beijing on Saturday with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. Wen pressed for an early resumption of the six-year-old disarmament talks that involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

"If we miss this opportunity, then we may have to make even more efforts further down the road," said Wen, whose government is North Korea's main patron and closest ally. China promised last week to give North Korea additional aid.

Leaders of Japan and South Korea were more cautious. They said North Korea would have to give up its nuclear weapons program as part of a "grand bargain" that would, if Pyongyang's promises are verified, unlock large amounts of aid and economic investment.

Such a bargain seems unlikely, at least in the short term. North Korea said in a letter this month to the U.N. Security Council that dismantling its nuclear weapons is "unthinkable even in a dream." The letter said Pyongyang would not give up its nuclear weapons unless the United States completely disarms.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company