Asia governments play down North Korea missile test
By Soo-Jeong Lee, Associated Press Writer
SEOUL, South Korea — Asian governments on Monday played down the significance of North Korea's latest missile test, saying it involved a short-range weapon unable to reach as far as Japan and with no link to the communist North's nuclear program.
North Korea apparently test fired a missile into the Sea of Japan on Sunday, raising new concerns about Pyongyang's nuclear intentions just days after a U.S. intelligence official said the secretive Stalinist state had the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear warhead. (Related story: Nuke meeting at U.N.)
"The missile that North Korea recently fired is a short-range missile and is far from the one that can carry a nuclear weapon," Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said in an interview with South Korea's Yonhap news agency. "This isn't a case to be linked to the nuclear dispute."
Song also commented on reports that Washington warned allies that Pyongyang might be ready to conduct an underground nuclear test as early as June, saying South Korea had not received no such warning.
Song is South Korea's top envoy to the nuclear dispute.
South Korean officials have said they have not yet detected any signs to suggest that Pyongyang is preparing for a nuclear test.
News of the test launch first appeared in Japanese media reports, citing U.S. military officials as having informed the Japanese and South Korean governments of Sunday's test launch, which took the missile about 65 miles off the North Korean coast.
Later, the White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, publicly announced the test, saying it was not surprising. "The North Koreans have tested their missiles before. They've had some failures," he told CNN.
In Japan, a Defense Agency official said Monday that Tokyo believes the missile flew only an extremely short distance and would not pose an immediate threat to Japan's national security. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Monday he believed it was part of North Korea's domestic military exercise and is not aimed at Japan.
"Although it's not confirmed, there is a sign that North Korea launched a small missile," Hosoda said. "It appears similar tests are conducted occasionally."
On Thursday, Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the U.S. Senate that the North Koreans knew how to arm a missile with a nuclear weapon — a potentially significant advance for the North. He did not specify whether he was talking about a short-range or long-range missile.
North Korea has test fired short-range missiles many times. In 2003, it test fired short-range land-to-ship missiles at least three times during heightened tensions over its nuclear weapons program.
Sunday's test occurred at an especially worrisome time, with concerns that the North is moving forward with its nuclear weapons program. South Korean officials said last month that Pyongyang had shut down a nuclear reactor, possibly to harvest more weapons-grade plutonium.
North Korea shocked the region in 1998 by test-firing a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. The North said it was an attempt to put a satellite in orbit.
U.S. and South Korean officials are more concerned about a possible North Korean test of a Taepodong-2 missile, which analysts believe is capable of reaching parts of the western United States, though there are widespread doubts about its reach and accuracy.
Link: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2005 ... aded_x.htm