North fires seven missiles into the East Sea on July 4
Ministry calls action ‘deeply deplorable’
North Korea fired seven more short-range missiles Saturday in apparent defiance of the United States as Americans celebrated their Independence Day holiday.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed Saturday that North Korea launched two missiles between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., with a third following at 10:45 a.m. and a fourth at noon. The North then launched one each at 2:50 p.m., 4:10 p.m. and 5:40 p.m.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said all seven missiles were launched from the Gitdaeryong missile base near Wonsan, Gangwon Province, off the peninsula’s east coast. A military source said all appeared to be Scud-type missiles with a range of between 400 kilometers (248.5 miles) and 500 kilometers.
When the first four missiles were fired, it was Friday night in Eastern Standard Time, just before the Fourth of July began in that time zone. On July 5, 2006, during Independence Day in Washington, the North fired a long-range Taepodong-2 missile, which fizzled out and fell into the ocean shortly after takeoff. North Korea also launched six additional short range missiles that day.
North Korea also fired four short-range missiles Thursday evening in what appeared to be a protest against a series of U.S. moves to put pressure on Pyongyang. The U.S. government said last week it would freeze the assets of two companies, one North Korean and the other Iranian, with alleged connections to the North Korean proliferation network. A U.S. interagency delegation visited Beijing to ensure the implementation of the United Nations’ sanctions against Pyongyang, which were adopted after the North’s nuclear test on May 25. The State Department said it would not provide food aid to North Korea without assurance that it was reaching starving North Koreans.
After Thursday’s launches, U.S. President Barack Obama hinted at more sanctions against the North, and the U.S. State Department said Saturday that the latest launches only “highlight the importance of fully implementing the provisions of the UN resolutions.”
“North Korea should refrain from actions that aggravate tensions and focus on denuclearization talks,” said department spokesman Karl Duckworth. “This type of North Korean behavior is not helpful. What North Korea needs to do is fulfill its international obligations and commitments.”
The South Korean government reacted with little surprise to Thursday’s missiles. But on Saturday, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul blasted the action as “provocation that is in clear violation” of UN Security Council resolutions banning North Korea from ballistic missile-related activities. The ministry vowed the South would keep working with allies to help ensure implementation of the resolutions.
“We urge North Korea to fulfill the Security Council resolutions,” said the ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young. “It’s deeply deplorable that North Korea repeatedly defies UN resolutions and raises tension in Northeast Asia.”
The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the country was “fully ready to counter any North Korean threats and provocations based on strong South Korea-U.S. combined defense posture.”
There are about 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.
Japan, which has previously seen long-range rockets fly over its main island, condemned the latest firing as “a serious act of provocation against the security of neighboring countries, including Japan, and is against the resolution of the UN Security Council.”
The Obama administration has strengthened its missile defense system in Hawaii and California in anticipation of a long-range missile launch from the North.
Media reports have claimed Pyongyang was targeting Independence Day to fire its Taepodong-2, with a theoretical range of 6,000 kilometers, enough to reach Alaska.
But Newsweek reported last Thursday, citing U.S. government officials, that it was “essentially impossible” for the North to launch the long-range missile by the Fourth of July because it had not assembled the rocket on a launch pad.
Two U.S. security officials told the magazine it would take weeks to put together the rocket. And once assembled, officials said fueling the rocket would require another several days.
The preparation process would be “easily visible” to U.S. spy satellites and also to commercial satellites that take pictures, according to an official.
The report concluded the earliest another long-range missile could be fired would be “several weeks” away. But the United States wasn’t taking any chances on Independence Day.
“We continue to closely monitor North Korea’s missile activity,” the Pentagon’s press secretary Geoff Morrell told The Washington Post. “Although their previous long-range launches have failed, [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates is not taking any chances. He recently enhanced the nation’s layered missile defenses by deploying additional capabilities in Hawaii. That will protect our fellow citizens should North Korea once again defy the international community and attempt another long-range missile launch.”
The launches came as Chinese officials, including top nuclear envoy Wu Dawei, were visiting Moscow to discuss North Korean nuclear issues. Wu is scheduled to visit Seoul this week.
And after the meeting, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the two countries had agreed that all sides should refrain from bringing further instability to the region.
Russia and China have been reluctant to bring the hammer down on the North after its recent run of belligerent rhetoric and activities and have often asked regional powers to exercise more calm.
And the Russian Foreign Ministry also said the six-party framework in denuclearization discussions remains the best possible option to help dismantle the North’s nuclear program.
“The two sides are convinced that there is no alternative to the six-party negotiations which are an efficient instrument to resolve the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula,” the ministry said in a statement.
By Yoo Jee-ho [email@example.com]