Washington’s worries about North missiles grow

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Washington’s worries about North missiles grow


Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen [REUTERS/YONHAP]

The top figure in the American military has voiced fresh concern about North Korea’s long-range missiles, following U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ description of them as a “direct threat to the U.S.”

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said North Korea poses “an evolving threat, not just to the region but to the United States specifically” at a foreign press briefing in Washington on Wednesday. Mullen added that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il “has not been shy about provocations.”

“It’s a really dangerous time,” Mullen said. “This capability that he is developing is becoming more and more dangerous so that potential provocations could become more and more catastrophic.”

Mullen’s remarks followed concerns voiced by Gates during a stop in Beijing Tuesday during which he said Pyongyang could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile in five years. On Wednesday, Mullen also called on China to take steps to alleviate the situation.

“I think that North Korea will have developed an ICBM within that time frame [five years],” Gates said Tuesday. Gates expanded on his remarks yesterday upon arriving in Japan to meet his counterpart Toshimi Kitazawa, Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, saying North Korea should change its behavior, referring to the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last year.

“The key on the Korean Peninsula, as I discussed in China and discussed here in Japan, is to prevent another provocation from happening,” Gates said. He said another attack by North Korea would not be tolerated by South Korean citizens, forcing Seoul to make a response.

“We don’t want to see the situation that we’ve seen so many times before, which is the North Koreans engage in a provocation and then everybody scrambles diplomatically to try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” said Gates, who is expected to arrive in Seoul to speak with Minister of National Defense Kim Kwan-jin today.

North Korea’s last missile test was in April 2009 when Pyongyang tested its Taepodong 2 missile. The U.S. said the last stage of the test failed and the missile traveled just 2,400 miles, shorter than it was supposed to.

Defenses against missiles and other provocations should be made ready by the U.S. and its allies, Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation wrote Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal.

“Kim seems interested in other provocations for 2011,” wrote Klingner.

By Christine Kim [christine.kim@joongang.co.kr]
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