June 22, 2006

US won’t necessarily shoot 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 unidentified American officials had
stoked alarm about activities at a missile site in eastern
North Korea, the U.S. government appeared ready to ease
tensions somewhat.

White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said
it remained uncertain if North Korea actually planned to
test-fire the Taepodong-2 missile, an act Washington has warned
would be seen as provocative.

"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 told CNN that North Korea's
missile capabilities were "fairly rudimentary."

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

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declined to say whether
he believed a North Korean missile launch to be imminent, and
acknowledged, "We don't know their procedures perfectly."

"All the intelligence suggests they have been making
preparations for a launch of a missile from the area of
Taepodong for some days now," Rumsfeld said.


Rumsfeld said it would depend on the circumstances whether
Bush would order the use of the developing U.S. missile defense
system to try to shoot down any North Korean missile launch.

"The president would make a decision with respect to the
nature of the launch, whether it was threatening to the
territory of the United States or not, and the likely threat
that it would pose," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing.

The U.S. military said it conducted a successful test of a
sea-based component of the system off the coast of Hawaii, but
called the timing a coincidence.

The test -- involving an interceptor missile fired from the
USS Shiloh, a Navy Aegis-class cruiser -- was part of the
system aimed at short- to medium-range ballistic missile
threats and not to long-range missiles like the Taepodong-2.

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 have had
mixed results. The multibillion-dollar system is based on the
concept of using one missile to shoot down another before it
can reach its target.

"What we have is a developmental initial system that does
not have all the pieces in place but has some modest initial
capability. And it will be some months before all of the pieces
are in place," Rumsfeld added.

U.S. officials have said they do not know what kind of
payload the North Korean 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.

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
the United States should state its intention to destroy the
Taepodong-2 before it can be fired if the North Koreans persist
in their launch preparations.

Peter Rodman, assistant defense secretary for international
security affairs, 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)