- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 2006

The salvo of North Korean missiles fired last week rattled windows in defense ministries and foreign offices in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, Beijing and Moscow, plus those at the United Nations and U.S. military headquarters in South Korea, Japan, and the Pacific Command in Hawaii.

In contrast, the news was well received in Iran as North Korea has long cooperated with Tehran. Rather than competing for attention from Western powers, as some analysts contend, North Korea and Iran appear to be coordinating their missile and nuclear programs to double-punch the U.S. and its allies.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il sent two distinct messages with the barrage of seven missiles, one political, the other military:

With a keen sense of timing, Mr. Kim taunted the U.S. by launching the missiles on the July Fourth holiday, as the U.S. space shuttle Discovery lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla. After weeks of increasingly stern U.S. warnings not to fire the missiles, Mr. Kim in effect challenged President Bush to do something besides talk.

Moreover, as the flames and smoke of North Korea’s fireworks subsided, it became clear that anything less than a military response would be seen by Pyongyang as evidence the U.S. could be defied with impunity. Negotiations with Pyongyang to eliminate North Korean nuclear aspirations do not look promising, to say the least.

Two other consequences seem likely: Mr. Kim has given proponents of U.S. missile defenses another argument to forge ahead. And proposals to move more U.S. troops out of South Korea have been temporarily set aside.

Militarily, the mix of short-range Scuds, medium-range Nodongs, and long-range Taepodongs, even if one blew up 40 seconds after launch, was intended to show South Korean and U.S. forces in South Korea, Japanese and U.S. forces in Japan, and American bases in Hawaii, Alaska, and the continental U.S. were within range.

U.S. intelligence knew that, but the demonstration was meant to bring the peril home to the public.

In Hawaii, warships at Pearl Harbor, aircraft at Hickam Air Force Base, soldiers in the 25th Division at Schofield Barracks, and Marines in Kanohe, all of which have marching orders to go to Korea in a contingency, would be prime targets.

Many observers questioned whether North Korea could mount a nuclear warhead on the missiles because of doubts they could make the warhead small and light enough. That overlooked North Korea’s known stockpiles of chemical arms that could be carried by the missiles.

South Koreans split on the threat. President Roh Moo Hyun, who has preached reconciliation with North Korea, issued a plea for “patient dialogue.” A statement asserted: “Pressuring North Korea and creating tensions are not helpful in the resolution of this issue.”

One newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, headlined an analysis: “Pyongyang is a clear winner” and said Mr. Roh would be confronted with “public outrage and pressure from conservatives.” Another paper, Chosun Ilbo, lamented: “This government has done nothing but issue a statement expressing serious regret.”

Japan was tougher, immediately closing routine port calls by North Korean ships and visits to Japan by North Korean officials. Longer run, the missile salvo seemed certain to accelerate Japan’s plans to modernize its armed forces, to become more active in international security, and to tighten its alliance with the U.S., including building missiles defenses.

Chinese officials who have often asserted to U.S. officials that they have limited influence over North Korea were proven right. Chinese leaders had urged North Korea to forgo its missile launches but were defied. How China deals with its rogue neighbor from now on will be intriguing to watch.

Similarly, the Russians, long patrons of North Korea, urged Kim Jong-il not to fire his missiles. They were ignored and have thus been set back in their ambitions to regain influence in Northeast Asia.

Iran’s cooperation with North Korea began in the 1980s, when Tehran financed Pyongyang’s production of Russian-designed Scud missiles and received 100 of them. Later, North Korea sent to Iran engines for Nodong medium-range missiles.

The North Korean demonstration will undoubtedly harden Iran’s stance, if that is possible, against Western nations seeking to dissuade Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, is scheduled to meet the European Union’s senior diplomat, Javier Solana, in Brussels tomorrow to discuss political and economic incentives offered to Iran.

As the cliche has it, don’t hold your breath awaiting progress.

Richard Halloran is a free-lance writer and former New York Times correspondent based in Honolulu.

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