SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States deployed a missile-interceptor ship from South Korea on Monday, a military spokesman said, days ahead of a North Korean rocket launch widely seen as a long-range missile test that violates U.N. sanctions.
The launch presents the first significant challenge by the prickly state to U.S. President Barack Obama, who will discuss Pyongyang's intentions with global leaders including Chinese President Hu Jintao this week at the G20 summit in London.
The United States, however, has no plans to shoot down the rocket in a test seen by Washington as part of Pyongyang's goal to eventually develop an intercontinental ballistic missile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday.
"I would say we're not prepared to do anything about it," Gates said on "Fox News Sunday" when asked if the Pentagon planned to shoot down the missile.
"If we had an aberrant missile, one that looked like it was headed for Hawaii, we might consider it," he said, adding the Pentagon does not believe North Korea can put a warhead on the missile or reach the U.S. West Coast.
U.S. Forces Korea dispatched one Aegis-equipped destroyer on Monday and plans to send another one later in the day from the South Korean port of Busan, a spokesman said without offering further details.
Local media quoted informed sources as saying the vessels with sophisticated radar will monitor the launch, which Pyongyang has said is planned for April 4-8. South Korea also plans to dispatch one of its missile intercepting destroyers closer to the launch date, officials have said.
Japan deployed two missile-intercepting vessels to waters off its west coast at the weekend and another off its Pacific coast.
The North Korean rocket is supposed to drop booster stages to the east and west of Japan. Government officials said Tokyo is poised to shoot down debris that poses a threat to its public.
PEACEFUL PURPOSE OR TEST?
North Korea has installed the completed three-stage rocket on a launch pad at its Musudan-ri missile base on the east coast but it was unclear what was at the top of the rocket, the Institute for Science and International Security said at the weekend based on an analysis of satellite imagery.
North Korea has said the launch is for the peaceful purpose of sending a satellite into orbit, while the United States, South Korea and Japan see it as a disguised test of the Taepodong-2 missile and a violation of U.N. sanctions.
The three have said they want the U.N. Security Council to punish the North for the launch but analysts see China, a veto-wielding permanent council member and the closest the North has to a major ally, blocking new sanctions and reluctant to call for tighter enforcement of existing ones.
Japan is considering tightening its unilateral sanctions on North Korea, Kyodo news agency reported. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said he opposes a military response to the launch.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Lee said he also does not want to punish Pyongyang by ending a joint business park located just north of their heavily militarized border or cutting humanitarian aid because that could hurt separate nuclear disarmament talks and Seoul's goal of peaceful unification.
"For us to go the other way, taking a harder stance, I don't think that would necessarily be helpful in achieving this ultimate objective," Lee said.
In July 2006, the only time the North tested the missile designed to carry a warhead as far as Alaska, it exploded just seconds into its flight.
North Korea is expected to start fuelling the rocket this week, starting a process experts said takes three to four days to prepare it for launch. U.S. spy satellites can watch the moves at the Musudan-ri missile base.
Weather forecasts for the area indicate rain on Saturday, the first planned day for the launch, followed by clear skies.
Investors said the impending launch has not cast much of a shadow, for now, over trading this week in Seoul.
"They will worry about that once the rocket is launched," said Kim Joong-hyun, a Goodmorning Shinhan Securities analyst.
Japan's Sankei Shimbun at the weekend said the North may also test-fire a barrage of mid-range ballistic missiles when it shoots off the rocket, as it did in 2006, but experts see that as unlikely because it could undermine Pyongyang's position.
"Such a test would be squarely contradictory to its arguments thus far that the rocket launch is for peaceful space development," said Moon Hong-sik, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul.
SKorea opposes military reaction to NKorean launch
SEOUL, South Korea – President Lee Myung-bak said South Korea opposes any military response to North Korea's planned launch of a rocket, while Washington's defense chief said the U.S. won't try to shoot it down.
The remarks by Lee and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates appear to reflect concerns that any tough reaction could send tensions spiking out of control at a time when the communist regime is warning that even U.N. sanctions would prompt it to quit nuclear disarmament talks.
North Korea says it will launch a communications satellite into orbit between April 4 and 8 as part of its space development program. Regional powers, however, suspect the North is using the launch to test long-range missile technology.
South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have warned the North that if it goes ahead with the launch it could face international sanctions under a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution prohibiting ballistic activity by Pyongyang.
Pyongyang has said sanctions would violate the spirit of agreements in nuclear disarmament talks, and said it would treat the pacts as null and void if punished for exercising its right to send a satellite into space.
In an interview with the Financial Times published Monday, Lee said all countries, including China and Russia, oppose the North's plans. But Lee stressed that he is against using military means as punishment.
"What I do oppose is to militarily respond to these kind of actions," Lee said, according to a transcript of the interview released by the presidential office.
Lee also ruled out shuttering a joint industrial complex in North Korea — widely seen as a source of hard currency for the impoverished nation — as punishment. He said he does not believe "taking a harder stance" would be helpful in achieving Seoul's ultimate objective of ridding the North of nuclear programs.
In Washington, Gates said in an interview broadcast Sunday that the U.S. has no plans to try to intercept the North Korean rocket but might consider trying if an "aberrant missile" were headed to Hawaii "or something like that."
Still, Gates said the North's launch is a step toward developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could carry a nuclear warhead, and "a mask for the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile."
Commercial satellite imagery taken Sunday by DigitalGlobe clearly shows what appears to be a three-stage launch vehicle on the launch pad in Musudan-ni on North Korea's east coast, said Tim Brown, an analyst for globalsecurity.org.
However, it remains unclear whether the rocket is a long-range Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile or a space launch vehicle designed to carry a satellite, Brown said.
He noted that the service-level swing arms appear to be rotated away from the launch vehicle.
"The loading of liquid fuel from nearby fuel storage buildings and final check-out procedures could take place in the next few days," Brown said.
On Monday, two U.S. destroyers were to depart from South Korea on a mission believed to monitor the North's rocket launch. The ships are equipped with Aegis radar, a system that enables the vessels to locate, track and shoot down missiles.
U.S. military spokesman Kim Yong-kyu said the ships would depart from the South Korean port of Busan, but declined to give details.
South Korea also plans to dispatch an Aegis-equipped destroyer off the east coast to monitor the launch.
In addition to the long-range rocket, North Korea is preparing to launch a short- or medium-range missile, a Japanese newspaper reported Sunday.
The Sankei newspaper, citing several unnamed Japanese government sources, said the North is preparing to test-launch another missile from Wonsan, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) south of Musudan-ni. It said U.S., South Korean and Japanese intelligence analyses said the missile could be short or medium range.
The report said the North may conduct another missile test if the U.N. Security Council approves sanctions against it or if it cannot wrest concessions from the United States.
Japan's Defense Ministry declined to comment on the Sankei report. South Korea's Defense Ministry and National Intelligence Service — its main spy agency — said they couldn't immediately confirm the report.
Is this just all a game NK is playing? They will launch it then will say that future launches can be avoided for more aid, recognition and to bolster their egotistical image of themselves infront of their brainwashed people. NK knows full well that starting a war would be disasterous for them because most of their military hardware is antiquated not to mention that they dont have the resources for a prolonged war.
If the countries around North Korea don’t want to do anything then we need to just leave it alone. Stop spending the tax payer’s dollars on other people’s problems. These guys only have the technology to hurt the countries around them, not us. Also with our missile defense system we could shoot down any missile that would be shot from North Korea. Watch when they piss off the countries that are around them they will be taken care of and we won’t have to lift a finger.
America stands up for those who can't stand up for themselves???? OR do they???? This is why we are watching ( as always pretending to care), to make sure that korean bottle rocket doesn't go nuclear over Japan or some other innocent country!!! Technology just gives us more efficient ways of killing eachother and they call it advances in civilization. What a joke.