- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

The Pentagon is sending B-1 and B-52 bombers to Guam in response to heightened tensions with North Korea as the State Department yesterday criticized North Korea's threatening aerial encounter on Sunday.

Defense officials said the Pentagon is dispatching 24 bombers to the western Pacific island of Guam in a move aimed at deterring aggression by North Korea in the event of war in Iraq.

Officials said the bomber deployment was not a reaction to Sunday's interception of a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft flying over international waters by North Korean jets. Two MiG-29s and two other jets, believed to be MiG-23s, used their targeting radar to illuminate the U.S. aircraft, a first step in firing an air-to-air missile, defense officials said.

No missiles were fired, and the aircraft returned safely to a base at Kadena, Japan.

"These [deployments] are not aggressive in nature," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. "Deploying these additional forces is a prudent measure to bolster our defensive posture and as a deterrent."

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said the aerial interception 150 miles from North Korea's coast will be protested.

"We consider this kind of interception very reckless," Mr. Boucher said.

President Bush, meanwhile, said the United States will speed deployment of a missile-defense system to shoot down potential North Korean missiles.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the aerial incident showed North Korean jets could operate as far as 150 miles from the country's coast and is "a big deal."

North Korea's action "wasn't done just capriciously" but was planned out, Gen. Myers told reporters.

"We are evaluating the safety and security of our reconnaissance flights right now," he said.

A Pentagon official said yesterday that further review of the aerial incident showed the MiGs did not lock their fire-control radar on the RC-135 because the weapons were not radar-guided. Instead, the North Koreans were preparing to fire infrared heat-seeking missiles.

Mr. Boucher told reporters yesterday that talks about the incident are being held with South Korea and Japan.

"We do intend to protest this kind of reckless behavior by North Korea that can only lead to further international isolation of North Korea," Mr. Boucher said. "And we repeat our call on North Korea to avoid provocative and escalatory behavior."

Asked about recent comments by CIA Director George J. Tenet that North Korea has missiles that can hit the western United States, Mr. Bush told reporters: "First, … let us accelerate the development of an anti-ballistic missile system so that in our years a nation will not be able to threaten America with a nuclear weapon."

In December, Mr. Bush announced that the Pentagon will begin deploying a missile-defense system to protect U.S. territory by 2004.

Construction of the limited missile shield is being sped up because of North Korea's long-range missile capability. The system will include up to 20 ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California.

Mr. Bush then said, "I believe that we can deal with this issue diplomatically by convincing China and Russia and South Korea and Japan to join us in convincing North Korea that it is not in their nations' interest to be threatening the United States, or anybody else for that matter, with a nuclear weapon."

The aerial incident represented the most alarming military face-off between the Cold War rivals since a crisis erupted after North Korea restarted a nuclear program mothballed under a 1994 accord.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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