South Korea warns North not to test-fire missiles
SEOUL (Reuters) - Hermit North Korea would upset regional security and face greater isolation if it launched a missile, South Korea's foreign minister said on Thursday amid reports the communist state was planning a rocket launch.
North Korea, which analysts said may be stirring up tension to grab the attention of new U.S. President Barack Obama, will be high on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's agenda when she visits Asia next week, her first trip abroad since taking office.
"If North Korea does launch missiles, it will be a serious threat not only to inter-Korean relations but also to the security of the Korean peninsula and that of the East Asia," Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said at a news briefing.
North Korea has made moves to prepare its longest-range Taepodong-2 missile for a test, U.S. and South Korean news reports said. Officials in Seoul said the secretive state may also be planning to test-fire short-range missiles.
"North Korea's action would invite its own isolation," Yu said adding that the North is subject to international bans on ballistic missile launches and U.N. sanctions after it test-fired a barrage of ballistic missiles in 2006.
North Korea has about 800 ballistic missiles with ranges that can hit all of South Korea and most of Japan. Its short-range missiles have a range of about 100-150 km (60-95 miles), which means they can hit all of the Seoul area and many U.S. military bases in South Korea.
Its longest-range Taepodong-2 missile, which is eventually supposed to have a range that would take it as far as Alaska but has never successfully flown, was last tested in 2006. It managed a few seconds of controlled flight before it blew apart.
Analysts said the launches may also be aimed at putting pressure on South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who angered his destitute neighbor by cutting off what once had been a free flow of unconditional aid shortly after taking office last year.
The North has unleashed a torrent of heated rhetoric at Lee's government, threatening to reduce its capitalist neighbor to rubble and saying it wanted no more dealings with Seoul.
"Missile moves are designed to strengthen (the North's) internal control," said Choi Choon-heum, a senior research fellow at the South's Korea Institute for National Unification.
He said the North's leaders can use the launches to try to show their people the state is powerful enough to stand up to the United States and South Korea despite its poor economy.
The North will celebrate leader Kim Jong-il's 67th birthday on Sunday and a parliament meeting in early March. Kim appears to have recovered from a suspected stroke in August.
It typically uses those events to praise Kim's military-first policy and could time launches around these events, analysts said, adding it takes a few weeks to prepare the Taepodong-2 for flight while the North can quickly fire its short-range missiles.
When she visits Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing next week, Clinton is likely to discuss how to approach North Korea, which in 2005 pledged to scrap its nuclear arms programs under a disarmament-for-aid deal it struck with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
Stephen Bosworth, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, is expected to be named as the U.S. envoy to six-party talks on curbing North Korea's nuclear ambitions, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday in Washington.
The floundering nuclear talks have been stalled by North Korea refusal to meet the demands of the five regional powers to accept a system to verify its nuclear claims. Pyongyang has complained that aid has not been delivered as promised.
(Additional reporting by Kim Junghyun; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
- Co-pilot spoke last words heard from missing Malaysian plane |
- Crimea asks to join Russia after Soviet-style vote |
- Crimeans vote over 90 percent to quit Ukraine for Russia |
- Ukraine, Russia agree Crimea truce until March 21-Ukraine minister
- Global stocks rise, yen slips after peaceful Crimea vote |