- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - North Korea accused the United States of spying on the site of an impending rocket launch and threatened Wednesday to shoot down any U.S. planes that intrude into its airspace.

North Korea says it will send a communications satellite into orbit on a multistage rocket between April 4 and 8. The U.S., South Korea and Japan suspect the reclusive country is using the launch to test long-range missile technology, and they warn Pyongyang would face sanctions under a U.N. Security Council resolution banning it from ballistic activity.

Pyongyang’s state radio accused U.S. RC-135 surveillance aircraft of spying on the launch site on its northeastern coast, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which is in charge of monitoring the North.

“If the brigandish U.S. imperialists dare to infiltrate spy planes into our airspace to interfere with our peaceful satellite launch preparations, our revolutionary armed forces will mercilessly shoot them down,” the ministry quoted the radio as saying.

It was unclear what capability North Korea has to shoot down the high-flying Boeing RC-135, which can reach altitudes of nearly 10 miles (15 kilometers). The threat came a day after the North claimed the U.S. and South Korea conducted about 190 spy flights over its territory in March, including over the sea off the launch site.

The U.S. military in South Korea declined to comment on the spying allegations or the North’s threat.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said at a summit Tuesday with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak that Pyongyang’s launch would breach the U.N. resolution, and he pledged to respond in step with Seoul, Lee’s office said.

Lee, in London for the G-20 summit, told Brown it was important for the international community to show a concerted response to the North’s move, his office said.

Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso also agreed at a summit Wednesday to “work together to make sure the international community shows a united response” to a North Korean launch, a statement from Lee’s office said.

Aso said he will push for new U.N. sanctions if the launch takes place, while Lee “stressed the need to clearly show to North Korea, through close coordination of the international community, that it cannot always have its own way,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted Lee’s spokesman Lee Dong-kwan as telling South Korean reporters.

In the Netherlands, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Pyongyang’s move “an unfortunate and continuing example of provocation by the North Koreans.”

“There will be consequences, certainly, in the United Nations Security Council if they proceed with the launch,” she said.

Clinton also strongly backed Japan’s plans to shoot down any incoming North Korean rocket debris, saying the country “has every right to protect and defend its territory from what is clearly a missile launch.”

Japan has deployed battleships with antimissile systems off its northern coast and stationed Patriot missile interceptors around Tokyo to shoot down any wayward rocket parts that the North has said might fall over the area.

Tokyo has said it is only protecting its territory and has no intention of trying to shoot down the rocket itself, but North Korea said it is not convinced and accused Japan of inciting militarism at home to justify developing a nuclear weapons program of its own.

If Japan tries to intercept the satellite, the North’s army “will consider this as the start of Japan’s war of re-invasion … and mercilessly destroy all its interceptor means and citadels with the most powerful military means,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday.

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank that provides detailed analysis about North Korea _ said in a report that the country is believed to have “assembled and deployed nuclear warheads” recently for its medium-range Rodong missiles, which are capable of striking Japan.

But its Seoul-based expert, Daniel Pinkston, said it is unclear if it has mastered the technology necessary to miniaturize the warheads and put them on Rodong missiles, which have a range of 620 to 930 miles (1,000 to 1,500 kilometers).

Adding to the complexity of the situation, the North announced Tuesday it will indict and try two American journalists accused of crossing the border illegally from China on March 17 and engaging in “hostile acts.”

___

Associated Press writers Paul Alexander and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo, contributed to this report.

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