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North Korea Readies Long-range Rocket For Test Launch

Japan readies NKorean rocket launch response
The Japanese government's powerful security council will meet this week to prepare for the shooting down of a North Korean rocket if it threatens to hit the country, the premier said Wednesday. The isolated Pyongyang regime has said it will launch a communications satellite over Japanese territory in early April, but the United States and its Asian allies suspect the launch is a ballistic missile test. Tokyo, which has developed a missile defence system with the United States in recent years, has warned it will attempt to shoot down any missile or debris that threatens to hit its territory. North Korea, which has announced a launch window of April 4 to 8, says it would regard a rocket intercept as an act of war. To prepare for the launch, "the government will summon the security council this week," said Prime Minister Taro Aso. "It is the government's obvious duty to prepare to the best standard so people don't have to worry." Japan's security council includes the premier, chief cabinet secretary, defence and foreign ministers as well as other cabinet ministers. It will decide how to respond to a North Korean launch -- either the cabinet would make an instant decision after any missile lifts off or it could give the military approval in advance to shoot it down. The government will likely choose the latter option, said Kyodo News and Asahi Shimbun daily reports, which added that Tokyo will likely issue an order Friday for its armed forces to prepare to intercept the rocket. Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura met Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada and Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone Wednesday to discuss Japan's response. "We exchanged opinions from the position that we would do the best for people's safety and security," Kawamura said. North Korea has warned that the rocket's first booster will likely plunge into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) off Japan's northern Akita prefecture, while the second will drop into the Pacific between Japan and Hawaii. Washington and Tokyo have worked jointly on a missile defence shield, using land and sea-based missiles, against a possible attack from North Korea, which fired a missile over Japan in 1998 and tested a nuclear bomb in 2006. On Tuesday Nakasone admitted the difficulty of shooting down a missile mid-flight, particularly when it comes unannounced. "I guess it is true that it is difficult," the foreign minister told reporters. "Our country has never really intercepted a missile. We would not know in what way, how, and to where a missile would be headed."
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 25, 2009
North Korea has placed a long-range missile on a launch pad, a US official confirmed Wednesday, raising prospects that it may soon go ahead with a launch that has alarmed the United States and its allies.

The counter-proliferation official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Japanese press reports that a long-range missile has been placed on a launch pad "are accurate."

The official said the missile was believed to be a Taepo-dong 2, a long range missile that could, in theory, reach Alaska.

NBC News, citing US officials, said two stages of the missile were visible but the top is covered with a shroud supported by a crane.

North Korea has said it intends to launch a satellite over Japan and into orbit between April 4 and April 8.

The United States, South Korea and Japan suspect, however, that the planned launch is a disguise for a missile test.

"The United States would consider a launch of a space vehicle which relies on ballistic missile technology as a violation of current UN Security Council resolutions," said Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman.

"We would then move on from that point. I'm not going to predict what our reaction would be to something that hasn't taken place yet," he added.

On Tuesday, North Korea warned that stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks would collapse if new UN sanctions are imposed to punish the launch. The forum groups the United States, Japan, Russia, the two Koreas and China.

Japan's security council, meanwhile, will meet this week to prepare for the shooting down of a North Korean rocket if it threatens to hit the country, Prime Minister Taro Aso said Wednesday.

Japan's government will issue an advance order Friday for the Self-Defense Forces to use its Patriot missile defense system to destroy any missile or debris if it shows signs of falling toward Japan, Jiji Press reported.

North Korea says it would regard a rocket intercept as an act of war.

The last time North Korea launched a Taepo-dong 2, on July 4, 2006, the missile failed catastrophically seconds after launch. Success this time would show that it is capable of reaching Alaska of Hawaii with a nuclear capable missile.

Admiral Timothy Keating, the US commander in the Pacific, said earlier this month there was a "high probability" that the United States could intercept a missile aimed at its territory.

Washington and Tokyo have worked jointly on a missile defense shield, using land and sea-based missiles, against a possible attack from North Korea, which fired a missile over Japan in 1998 and tested a nuclear bomb in 2006.

Pyongyang has said that the rocket's first booster will likely plunge into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) off Japan's northern Akita prefecture, while the second will drop into the Pacific between Japan and Hawaii.

The Sankei Shimbun said in an unsourced online report that "North Korea has entered into the final stage of preparing for a launch as it has moved a rocket from storage."

The Mainichi Shimbun said in an online report, quoting an unnamed South Korean defense source, that the missile was in place and would in theory be ready for launch as early as Saturday.

In addition to the impending missile launch, tensions have been rising between North and South Korea. The North in January scrapped all peace pacts with its neighbour.

China's military chief, General Chen Bingde, arrived Wednesday in Seoul for talks with senior South Korean officials amid rising tensions over North Korea's planned rocket launch.

China, a traditional ally and major aid donor for impoverished North Korea as well as a permanent UN Security Council member, has not publicly urged Pyongyang to halt the launch.

Japan's Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone Tuesday admitted the difficulty of shooting down a flying missile, particularly when it comes unannounced.

"I guess it is true that it is difficult," he told reporters.

"Our country has never really intercepted a missile. We would not know in what way, how, and to where a missile would be headed.

"What's important, I think, is that we do our best until the very last minute so that it would not happen," Nakasone said, referring to diplomatic efforts to discourage North Korea from launching a rocket.

earlier related report
China's military chief in SKorea amid missile tensions
China's military chief arrived Wednesday for talks with senior South Korean officials amid rising tensions over North Korea's planned rocket launch.

General Chen Bingde, chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army, met Defence Minister Lee Sang-Hee ahead of talks with his counterpart Kim Tae-Young, the Joint Chiefs of Staff office said.

Seoul's call for "a positive role and efforts by the Chinese military to help address inter-Korean tensions" was on the agenda, it said in a statement.

North Korea says it will launch a communications satellite between April 4-8.

South Korea, the United States and Japan have denounced what they see as a disguised long-range missile test. They say a launch for any purpose would breach a UN Security Council resolution passed after the North's missile and nuclear tests in 2006.

A joint chiefs spokesman told AFP the rocket issue was on the agenda but refused to elaborate.

"We plan to relay to the Chinese delegation our demand that North Korea heed international warnings and halt its preparations for the launch," an unidentified Seoul defence official told Yonhap news agency.

"China is the closest country to North Korea. Its comments carry weight, and we hope it can more actively pressure Pyongyang."

China, a traditional ally and major aid donor for North Korea as well as a permanent UN Security Council member, has not publicly urged it to halt the launch.

The North Tuesday warned that six-party nuclear disarmament talks would collapse if new UN sanctions are imposed to punish the launch. The forum groups the United States, Japan, Russia, the two Koreas and China.

South Korea's chief envoy to the talks Wi Sung-Lac returned Wednesday from a meeting in Beijing with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei on possible "counter-measures" after any launch.

Wi, quoted by Yonhap, indicated there is no agreement yet on a response.

Asked if there are differences between the two countries, he replied: "We are in the process of expanding what we have in common, little by little."

In addition to the impending missile launch, tensions have been rising between North and South Korea. The North in January scrapped all peace pacts with its neighbour.

Seoul officials said Chen is paying a three-day visit to discuss ways to increase military cooperation. He plans to tour military bases including a special warfare forces command and a naval base.

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