June 22, 2006

US sets conditions for shooting down N. Korea missile

By Carol Giacomo and Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea is far along in its
preparations for testing a long-range ballistic missile but the
United States would not necessarily use its missile defense
system to shoot it down, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

After a week in which unnamed American officials had stoked
alarm about activities at a missile site in eastern North
Korea, the U.S. government appeared ready to ease tensions

White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said
it remained uncertain if North Korea actually planned to
test-fire the missile, an act which Washington has warned would
be seen as a provocative act.

"We're watching it very carefully and preparations are very
far along. So you could, from a capability standpoint, have a
launch. Now what they intend to do ... of course we don't know.
What we hope they will do is give it up and not launch," he
told reporters traveling with President George W. Bush in
Vienna, Austria.

Vice President Dick Cheney said in an interview with CNN
that North Korea's missile capabilities were "fairly

"But we are watching it with interest and following it very
closely," Cheney said.

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said the United States would not necessarily use its
developing missile defense system to shoot down any North
Korean missile launch, saying it depended on where the missile
was aimed.

The official was seeking to clarify conditions under which
Washington would use missile defenses against a North Korean

"Obviously, the United States military would use any
capability it had if it could protect the American people," the
official said.


But "if there is a test in which a missile goes up, for
example, and is headed into the ocean or whatever, would that
be necessarily a trigger for our defensive systems? No, it
wouldn't be," the official added.

U.S. officials have said they do not know what kind of
payload the missile might carry. But two officials told Reuters
they would view it as "somewhat less provocative" -- although
still undesirable -- if the missile were used to try to put a
satellite in orbit.

The United States has built up a complex of interceptor
missiles, advanced radar stations and data relays designed to
detect and shoot down an enemy missile, but tests of the system
have had mixed results.

The system is based on the concept of using one missile to
shoot down another before it can reach its target.

William Perry, former President Bill Clinton's secretary of
defense, and Ashton Carter, an assistant secretary of defense
under Clinton, argued in a commentary in The Washington Post on
Thursday that the United States should state its intention to
destroy the North Korean missile before it can be fired if the
North Koreans persist in their launch preparations.

Asked for his reaction to this proposal, Pentagon spokesman
Bryan Whitman said Bush "is trying to work this through
diplomatic means," rather than military means.

Peter Rodman, assistant defense secretary for international
security affairs, also rejected the idea in testimony before
the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, saying:
"A pre-emptive strike is a little more dramatic than I would
expect would happen."

"Our policy is to deal with this in a less drastic way at
the present time. We have a missile defense capability and
North Korea was very much on our mind when we designed that
capability," he added.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Budapest, Paul
Eckert in Washington)