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U.S. readies itself for North launch of several missiles

Seoul may join Proliferation Security Initiative to put pressure on Pyongyang  PLAY AUDIO

Mar 21,2009
Two weeks before North Korea’s scheduled launch of a communications satellite, veteran U.S. military commanders said the United States is ready for multiple North Korean missiles and is capable of shooting them down.

Speaking to the U.S. Senate, Admiral Timothy Keating, the top American commander in the Pacific, said there is a “high probability” that the United States could shoot down North Korean missiles.

“We’ll be prepared to respond [to North Korea],” he said. “The United States has the capability to shoot down any missile.”

General Walter Sharp, commander of the American forces stationed in South Korea, echoed the sentiment. He also said other North Korean missiles might be launched alongside what the North claims is a satellite-carrying rocket. Sharp pointed out that in 2006, the last time North Korea tried to test a missile, “they also launched six other missiles.”

“And we are watching very closely to see what else they will do between April 4 and 8,” Sharp said in reference to the scheduled dates for the North Korean launch.

Sharp said any launch would be a “very clear” violation of a UN Security Council resolution that imposes sanctions on North Korea if it engages in a ballistic missile program.

“The threat is real, and it is felt in South Korea,” Sharp added. “We call on North Korea not to act in this provocative manner.”

Sharp also pointed out that the North is building missiles of “increasing range, lethality and accuracy” for sale in Iran and Syria, among others, and added the missiles pose a threat to Asia and the rest of the world.

Washington and Seoul believe the North’s satellite launch is a disguise for a ballistic missile test. North Korea has warned of “a war” if anyone attempts to intercept its satellite.

Meanwhile, South Korea said it could join the Proliferation Security Initiative, the U.S.-led international movement designed to curb trading of weapons of mass destruction.

Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said if the North goes ahead with its rocket launch, “It will allow the South government to review the possibility of joining the initiative.”

Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae also said yesterday that becoming a full participant “could be a form of protest that could pressure North Korea.”

Joining the PSI will likely anger North Korea. Participation in the effort entails abiding by regulations to prohibit weapons of mass destruction and materials and enacting laws to facilitate seizure of such weapons.

Last month at a parliamentary hearing, Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee also suggested the South “reconsider” participating in the PSI at a time when the North is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

South Korea is not among 15 core participants because of its delicate relations with the North. In 2005, a multinational exercise was held that was designed to help nations prepare for work against proliferation of WMD, but South Korea did not take part in the exercise.

Currently, 94 nations, including each one of the G8, are members. South Korea is an observing nation of exercises.

The more liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration did not want to affect inter-Korean relations by joining the PSI, while the Lee Myung-bak administration has taken a decidedly hard-line policy against the North.

Meanwhile, the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s official mouthpiece, announced yesterday a plan to hold a parliamentary session on April 9, one day after the range of days it has given for the satellite launch.

The Supreme People’s Assembly held its 12th election on March 8.


By Yoo Jee-ho Staff Reporter [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]



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