- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

TOKYO — Japan said yesterday that it was considering whether a pre-emptive strike on North Korea’s missile bases would violate its constitution, signaling a hardening stance ahead of a proposed U.N. Security Council vote on Tokyo’s proposal for sanctions against the regime.

Supporters of the resolution agreed in New York yesterday to delay the vote in the hope that China can pressure North Korea to return to six-party talks on its nuclear program and halt missile launches.

A Chinese delegation arrived in North Korea yesterday pledging friendship and deeper ties, and John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the resolution’s supporters had decided not to press for a vote “while the diplomacy in Pyongyang proceeds.”

On Wednesday, North Korea fired seven missiles, which fell into the East Sea/Sea of Japan. Clearly troubled by the launches, Japan yesterday used rhetoric unprecedented in the country that adopted a pacifist constitution after its defeat in World War II.

“If we accept that there is no other option to prevent an attack … there is the view that attacking the launch base of the guided missiles is within the constitutional right of self-defense. We need to deepen discussion,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said.

“It’s irresponsible to do nothing when we know North Korea could riddle us with missiles,” said Tsutomu Takebe, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, yesterday.

“We should consider measures, including legal changes” required for such an attack, he said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported today that North Korea appeared to be preparing for new missile launches. U.S. and Japanese satellite photos show that mid-range Rodong missiles had been set up on launchpads at a base in southeastern North Korea but were removed. Fuel tanks could be seen near the launchpads, the report said.

Japan’s constitution forswears the use of war to settle international disputes, but the government has interpreted that to allow defensive forces. The question is whether such a pre-emptive strike could be defined as self-defense.

South Korea today denounced Japan’s suggestion of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, saying it showed the former colonial power’s “expansionist nature.”

“It is a serious development that Japanese Cabinet ministers have made a series of comments that justify a possible pre-emptive strike and the use of military power against the Korean Peninsula,” said Jung Tae-Ho, spokesman for President Roh Moo-hyun.

Japan’s military capability to conduct such a strike is another issue. The Defense Agency has said Japan does not have weapons such as ballistic missiles that could reach North Korea, only defensive ground-to-air and ground-to-vessel missiles.

In Washington, a Pentagon official told The Washington Times that Japan has a limited number of aircraft capable of conducting such an attack. The main weapons for a strike likely would be some of Japan’s 40 modified F-16 fighter bombers known as the Mitsubishi F-2 and 20 French- and British-designed F-1s.

The aircraft are armed with ASM-2 anti-ship cruise missiles that have a range of about 60 miles. The missiles could be modified to conduct attacks on coastal North Korean missile facilities, the official said.

Japan also has considered development of a precision-guided surface-to-surface ballistic missile that probably would have a range of several hundred miles. Research on the missile was put on hold in late 2004 but could be revived after the recent North Korean missile launches.

Staff writer Bill Gertz in Washington contributed to this article.

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