U.S. Officials: N. Korea May Be Planning More Missile Tests
Friday, May 29, 2009
Photo by Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images
U.S. officials say there are new signs North Korea may be planning even more missile launches in a show of strength following worldwide condemnation of its underground nuclear test.
The North fired a short-range missile on Friday — the sixth this week.
Perhaps more significantly, officials say there are indications of increased activity at a site used to fire long-range missiles.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because methods of gathering information about North Korea are sensitive. The officials also say an initial U.S. air sampling from near the underground test site was inconclusive.
Officials say that first test doesn't prove the North successfully completed an atomic reaction. At least one more test is coming.
The North fired the missile from its Musudan-ni launch site on the east coast, a South Korean government official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter. It is the sixth short-range missile North Korea has test-fired since Monday's nuclear test.
The official did not provide further details. But the Yonhap news agency cited an unidentified South Korean government official as saying the missile is a new type of ground-to-air missile estimated to have a range of up to 160 miles.
Yonhap said the missile is believed to be an improved version of the SA-5, which North Korea introduced in 1963 and deployed in eastern and western parts of the country. The SA-5 was originally produced by the Soviet Union.
With tensions high on the Korean peninsula, Chinese fishing boats left the region, possibly to avoid any maritime skirmishes between the two Koreas. But U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the situation was not a crisis and no additional U.S. troops would be sent to the region.
North Korea, meanwhile, warned it would retaliate if provoked.
"If the U.N. Security Council makes a further provocation, it will be inevitable for us to take further self-defense measures," the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
North Korea also accused the Security Council of hypocrisy.
"There is a limit to our patience," the statement said. "The nuclear test conducted in our nation this time is the Earth's 2,054th nuclear test. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have conducted 99.99 percent of the total nuclear tests."
The North has been strident since its test, which it has also called a self-defensive measure. It did not specify what further action it was considering in response to U.N. resolutions, or what it would consider a provocation.
Fears have increased of military skirmishes, particularly in disputed waters off the western coast, after North Korea conducted the nuclear test on Monday and then renounced the truce that has kept peace between the Koreas since the Korean War ended in 1953.
The waters were the site of two deadly clashes in 1999 and 2002.
From Yeonpyeong, the South Korean island closest to North Korea, about a dozen Chinese ships could be seen pulling out of port in the North and heading elsewhere. South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that more than 280 Chinese vessels were fishing in the area earlier this week, but the number has dropped to about 140.
It was not clear if the Chinese vessels, in the area for the crabbing season, were told by the North to leave or if they were leaving on their own for fear of clashes at sea.
"For now, it seems quiet," said local construction worker Lee Hae-un, 43. "But if North Korea provokes us with military power, I think our government should actively and firmly counteract it."
South Korean and U.S. troops facing North Korea raised their surveillance on Thursday to its highest level since 2006, when North Korea tested its first nuclear device. About 28,000 American troops are stationed across the South.
North Korea, whose 1.2-million strong military is one of the world's largest, says it is merely preparing to defend itself against what it says are plans by the United States to launch a pre-emptive strike to overthrow its communist government.
The United States has repeatedly denied any intention to attack North Korea.
In Washington, the Army's top officer, Gen. George Casey, expressed confidence that the U.S. could fight a conventional war against North Korea if necessary, despite continuing conflicts elsewhere.
But Gates, en route to Singapore for regional defense talks, tried to lower the temperature.
"I don't think that anybody in the (Obama) administration thinks there is a crisis," Gates told reporters aboard his military jet early Friday.
Meanwhile, talks at the U.N. Security Council over possible sanctions for the nuclear test were moving forward slowly.
Russia's U.N. ambassador said Thursday there was wide agreement among key world powers on what a new U.N. resolution should include, but said putting the elements together will take time because the issues are "complicated."
A list of proposals was sent Wednesday to the five permanent veto-wielding council members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and the two countries most closely affected by the nuclear test, Japan and South Korea.
Diplomats said a draft of the proposed resolution is not expected to be circulated until next week.
The two Koreas technically remain at war because they signed a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953. North Korea disputes the U.N.-drawn maritime border off their west coast and has positioned artillery guns along the west coast on its side of the border, Yonhap said.
Traffic at the border between the Koreas appeared to be normal. Yonhap said more than 340 South Korean workers crossed to a joint industrial complex in the North.
The two Koreas are also maintaining a communication line to exchange information on commercial vessels passing through each other's waters, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.
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