North Korea prepares new test of missile
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
March 12, 2003
North Korea is preparing another missile test, which would break Pyongyang's moratorium on long-range ballistic missile flights, U.S. intelligence officials said.
Meanwhile, a separate test Monday of a new anti-ship cruise missile, the second in two weeks, was a failure, with the 100-mile-range missile failing to fly properly because of a guidance system problem, the officials told The Washington Times.
Recent satellite photographs of a North Korean base showed activity that appeared to be flight-test preparations, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"There aren't indications of an imminent launch, but it is something they might well do," one U.S. official said. "It's certainly a possibility."
A second official said the activity is being watched closely and that there are concerns that the flight test, which would be North Korea's third in recent weeks, will be of the Taepo-Dong 2 ballistic missile.
A third official at the Pentagon said, "Clearly, the potential is there for a launch with little or no notice."
U.S. officials said the missile tested Monday was a North Korean version of the Chinese-made HY-2 Silkworm anti-ship missile that has an estimated range of up to 100 miles.
The second flight test of the new missile failed because of problems with the guidance system, U.S. officials said. The missile flew about 80 miles over the East Sea/Sea of Japan.
The preparations and the cruise-missile flight tests come amid growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The Pentagon is dispatching six F-117 Stealth fighter bombers to South Korea for exercises to begin next week, said Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis. It will be the first time since 1993, when the first crisis developed concerning North Korea's nuclear-weapons program, that the radar-evading aircraft are moved to South Korea.
Earlier this month, 24 B-1 and B-52 bombers were sent to Guam to deter any North Korean military action.
North Korean jets also threatened an unarmed U.S. reconnaissance aircraft March 2, locking targeting radar on a U.S. Air Force RC-135 flying in international airspace 150 miles from North Korea's coast.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun yesterday called for maintaining a strong alliance with the United States.
"The staunch Korea-U.S. combined defense arrangement is greatly contributing to our national security," Mr. Roh said in a speech at the Korean Military Academy. "The solid ... alliance should be maintained even more so."
North Korea, meanwhile, repeated its call for direct talks with the United States.
"If the U.S. turns to a military option in the end, persistently turning down the [North´s] principled proposal for direct talks, it will lead to a catastrophic situation," North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary.
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sought to play down the cruise-missile test on Monday, telling reporters that it was "not an emergency." He said Japan would work with the United States to prevent Pyongyang from taking reckless action.
Stocks in Tokyo fell to a 20-year low after reports in the Rodong Sinmun that the test was more than a simple military drill.
Defense officials said North Korea's first two missile tests were directed at the United States. Pyongyang is trying to force the United States to negotiate directly with its communist government, something President Bush has ruled out.
North Korea's government is expected to announce a warning of the next missile test soon, perhaps as early as today, the officials said.
Pyongyang released an official notice in advance of the missile tests that happened Feb. 24 and Monday.
A major worry among U.S. officials is that the upcoming test, which would be the third in recent weeks, will be a second flight test of its new long-range Taepo-Dong 2 ballistic missile, which was flight-tested for the first time in August 1998.
The CIA said in a report made public in December 2001 that North Korea is improving the Taepo-Dong 2. The missile can carry a warhead weighing several hundred pounds up to 6,200 miles, "sufficient to strike Alaska, Hawaii and parts of the continental United States."
If a lighter third stage is used, like the one tested in 1998, the Taepo-Dong 2 could have a range of 9,300 miles. That configuration would be "sufficient to strike all of North America," the CIA said, noting that a future test of the missile could be disguised as a space launch.
The North Korean government announced after the 1998 launch that it would halt the tests.
The Taepo-Dong 2 overflew portions of Japanese airspace and created widespread security worries among Japanese defense officials.
The latest crisis with North Korea began in October, when Pyongyang admitted to having a secret program to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
North Korea then withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has restarted a small nuclear reactor.
The F-117s sent to South Korea are taking part in the annual U.S.-South Korean exercises known as Foal Eagle/RSOI, for reception, staging and onward integration.
The maneuvers begin March 19 and will continue through early April, Cmdr. Davis said.
One of the exercises simulates a North Korean special-operations attack on South Korea.
Most of the 37,000 troops in South Korea will take part in the exercises, which have been denounced by official North Korean news outlets as preparation for war.