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Lee opposing a military counter to rocket launch

U.S. defense secretary: no plans to shoot down missile  PLAY AUDIO

Mar 31,2009
American Aegis destroyer U.S.S. John S. McCain heads toward the East Sea yesterday from a Busan port to monitor North Korea’s rocket launch along with Aegis-guided U.S.S. Chefee and Korea’s first Aegis destroyer, King Sejong the Great, on the east coast. [YONHAP]
President Lee Myung-bak said he is opposed to any military response to Pyongyang’s upcoming rocket launch, and Washington’s defense secretary said the United States is not planning to shoot it down.

But in his interview published yesterday in the British newspaper the Financial Times, Lee warned strongly against the North’s planned rocket launch, linking the matter with the communist regime’s nuclear programs.

“If North Korea did not have a desire for acquiring nuclear weapons, then I think North Korea’s stated intention of launching a space satellite would cause no qualms. But the truth of the matter is North Korea does have a desire to develop nuclear weapons so this does precisely make it a very serious concern for them to acquire the technology to deliver nuclear weapons,” Lee was quoted as saying in the transcript of the interview provided by the FT.

Asked if he supports Tokyo’s position to shoot down the suspected North Korean missile, Lee said “the Japanese are rightly concerned” because it will fly through Japan’s territory, but “no country should say we support it or not because this is a decision made by the Japanese government with the sole purpose of protecting its own citizens.”

He, however, said, “What I do oppose is to militarily respond to these kinds of actions because it is also not in their interest to test-fire anything. In the short term it might be beneficial for negotiating conditions, but in the long term it won’t be in their interest.”

Lee’s remarks came as Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on “Fox News Sunday” that the United States has no current plan to shoot down a North Korean rocket.

“I think if we had an aberrant missile, one that looked like it was headed for Hawaii or something like that, we might consider it,” Gates said. “But I don’t think we have any plans to do anything like that at this point.”

Gates’ remark is a change from previous U.S. military officials’ positions. Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, has said that American forces are prepared to shoot down the rocket, and two Aegis destroyers equipped with missile interception capabilities have remained in the waters near the Korean Peninsula after recent military exercises.

Pyongyang has announced its plan to launch a satellite between April 4 and 8 and has placed a rocket on the launch pad.

Gates said he is under no illusion about what he thinks the North intends by the launch.

“I don’t know anyone at a senior level in the American government who does not believe this technology is intended as a mask for the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile,” he said.

Gates also expressed skepticism about the diplomatic efforts to end nuclear aspirations by both the North and Iran. “Frankly, from my perspective, the opportunity for success is probably more in economic sanctions in both places than it is in diplomacy,” Gates said. “What gets them to the table is economic sanctions.”

Although the Pentagon’s chief was pessimistic about diplomacy, President Lee said South Korea does not want to employ hard-line measures such as shutting down the Kaesong Industrial Complex to pressure the North.

“I think that going to such an extreme measure will not be beneficial. We are not considering such a measure at this point because the Kaesong Industrial Complex is one conduit for us to keep that window of dialogue open,” he told the Financial Times. “However if North Korea continues to take such extreme positions and actions we will have to tailor our response and reactions.”

Lee leaves for London today to attend the G-20 financial summit.

During his scheduled bilateral meetings there with U.S. President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and Chinese President Hu Jintao, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs will be addressed, Blue House officials said.

Lee will also use the London meeting to push forward Korea’s efforts to root out trade protectionism in the aftermath of the global economic crisis. The Financial Times said Lee will call for the World Trade Organization to “name and shame” countries that erect trade and financial barriers.

“There are many countries clearly engaging in some sort of protectionist measures,” Lee was quoted as saying, basing his argument on a World Bank report that 17 of the G-20 countries had erected trade barriers.

“I intend to propose that we roll back all the protectionist measures and policies that have been put in place to the level that we saw when the Washington summit was convened last November,” he said. “As a concrete and actionable follow-up, I will propose that the World Trade Organization report on a quarterly or regular basis to all the member states on the practices of certain countries and, if they engage in protectionist measures, to release the names.”

As a timely symbol of Seoul’s free trade efforts, South Korea plans to finalize its free trade agreement with the European Union in London on April 2. The two sides reached a tentative agreement last week after almost two years of negotiations.



By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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