- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

2:04 p.m.

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The United States said today that a U.S. missile-defense system under development has “limited operational capability” to protect against weapons such as the long-range missile North Korea is said to be near firing.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley underscored U.S. calls for North Korea to abandon any plans for testing the missile thought capable of reaching U.S. soil.

“We’re watching it very carefully, and preparations are very far along,” Mr. Hadley said when asked about South Korea’s assessment that a launch was not imminent.

In Washington, a top Pentagon official said today that a missile launch would be “a provocation and a dangerous action” that would lead the United States to impose “some cost” on North Korea.

Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, told a House Armed Services Committee hearing that he did not know if such a launch would happen. If it did, Mr. Rodman said, the administration would take some action, but he did not specify what it would be.

“If such a launch takes place, we would seek to impose some cost on North Korea,” Mr. Rodman said. “That is the minimum response that you would expect of us.

“A launch of a missile would be a provocation and a dangerous action which would have to have some consequences,” he said.

Col. Robert Carr, assistant director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told lawmakers that “preparations continue” for a possible launch. He declined to speak further on the subject in public, telling lawmakers he would brief them on the matter in a closed session.

Mr. Hadley, who briefed reporters while traveling with President Bush in Europe, also spurned a suggestion by former Defense Secretary William Perry that the United States launch a pre-emptive strike against the North Korean missile.

“We think diplomacy is the right answer, and that is what we are pursuing,” he said when asked about Mr. Perry’s recommendation in an opinion column published today in The Washington Post.

“The way out of this is for North Korea to decide not to test this missile,” Mr. Hadley said.

The United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on missile defense systems during the past few decades.

“We have a missile defense system … what we call a long-range missile defense system that is basically a research, development, training, test kind of system,” Mr. Hadley said. “It does … have some limited operational capability. And the purpose, of course, of a missile defense system is to defend … the territory of the United States from attack.”

He said it was hard to say what North Korea would do.

“In terms of North Korean intentions, you know this is a very opaque society and very hard to read,” Mr. Hadley said.

He said a missile test would disrupt the stalled six-party talks about North Korea’s nuclear program.

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