July 5, 2006

North Korea launches missiles

By George Nishiyama

TOKYO (Reuters) - North Korea test-fired a barrage of
missiles on Wednesday, including a long-range weapon said to be
capable of reaching Alaska, ratcheting up tensions in north
Asia and drawing international condemnation.

At least six missiles were launched early in the morning
and a seventh some 12 hours later, officials in Japan and South
Korea said. Russia said North Korea fired 10 missiles, but the
report from a senior general could not be immediately

The long-range Taepodong-2 missile apparently failed 40
seconds into its flight, U.S. officials said. Japanese and
South Korean officials said the missiles fell into the sea
separating the Korean peninsula from Japan.

The United States warned North Korea against any more
provocative acts, and said Washington would take necessary
measures to protect itself and its allies.

"The United States strongly condemns these missile launches
and North Korea's unwillingness to heed calls for restraint
from the international community," White House spokesman Tony
Snow said in a statement.

The U.N. Security Council was to meet later in the day, at
Japan's request, to discuss the latest move by the reclusive
Stalinist state, a French spokesman at the United Nations said.

China, North Korea's closest ally and the host of six-way
talks on its nuclear program, expressed worry.

"We are seriously concerned about the events that have
occurred," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a

"We hope that all sides will maintain calm and restraint,
and do things conducive to the peace and stability of the
Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia and do not take any further
steps that will add to tensions and further complicate the

South Korea's military stepped up its alert level after the
launch, Yonhap news agency cited a military source as saying.

The two Koreas are technically still at war more than half
a century after the inconclusive truce which halted the
1950-1953 Korean conflict. Some 30,000 U.S. troops remain in
South Korea under a mutual defense treaty.


The missile launches "demonstrate North Korea's intent to
intimidate other states by developing missiles of increasingly
longer ranges," Snow, the White House official, added.

"We are consulting with international partners on next

U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the
multiple firings might have been an attempt by Pyongyang to
steal the spotlight away from Iran, which has been the main
focus of U.S. nuclear diplomacy in recent months.

"Obviously, it is a bit of an effort to get attention,
perhaps because so much attention has been focused on the
Iranians," Hadley told reporters.

But like many U.S. officials, he said it was impossible to
be sure about Pyongyang's motives.

North Korea, whose government pays close attention to
symbolic gestures, chose to launch the missiles as the United
States was marking its July 4 Independence Day.

"It got everybody's attention on the Fourth of July. (North
Korean leader) Kim Jong-Il can set off fireworks, too," said
John Pike, director of the security Web site

Japan said it would consider immediate economic sanctions
against North Korea. The government banned visits by North
Korean ferries for six months.

"Whatever North Korea seeks to achieve or is speculating,
nothing positive for North Korea will come out from this,"
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said.

The Japanese yen and the South Korean won both slipped
against the dollar on the launch news, with Tokyo and Seoul
stock markets also lower. In Seoul, the government said South
Korean authorities would take action if necessary.

Russia, which is a party to six-way talks on North Korea's
nuclear program, condemned the launch. Tokyo also called on
Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks, which have been
stalled since November.

The other participants in the talks are the United States,
China, Japan and the two Koreas.


North Korean media made no mention of the multiple
launches, Japanese reporters in Pyongyang said. Television
channels had no programming on Wednesday morning, they said,
and state radio led its bulletins on Kim Jong Il's visit to a
tire factory.

Experts say the Taepodong-2 has a possible range of
3,500-4,300 km (2,190-2,690 miles).

A State Department official told Reuters the long-range
missile had failed 40 seconds after it was launched. A senior
South Korean security official said the Taepodong-2 had
splashed down in the sea off the peninsula's east coast.

Experts say that Pyongyang is developing long-range
missiles to have the capability one day to deliver a nuclear
bomb, but that it is years away from acquiring such a weapons

(Additional reporting by Jim Wolf, Paul Eckert, Matt
Spetalnick in Washington and Jack Kim and Jon Herskovitz in