- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

SEOUL — North Korea moved a missile to a launch site this month, but there has been no credible intelligence yet that the country is preparing to test-fire it, South Korean and Japanese officials said today.

Reports that North Korea may be getting ready to test-launch a type of ballistic missile that some analysts say could reach the United States come amid moves by Washington to improve relations with the reclusive state.

Test-firing a long-range missile would drastically escalate tension in Northeast Asia and beyond and would likely set back international efforts to persuade North Korea to disarm and open up to the outside world.

Two Japanese news organizations reported today that movement has been observed near a missile base in northeastern North Korea since earlier this month, quoting unidentified South Korean government officials who cited satellite photographs.

Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that the officials said a missile, possibly a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, had been brought to the site.

U.S. officials say the 116-foot-long Taepodong-2 has a firing range of 9,300 miles and could reach as far as the U.S. mainland.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso told a parliamentary committee the government was aware of North Korea’s missile movement.

“In fact, we understand that [the missile] has been brought to the site,” he said, “but we are not sure about any subsequent moves.”

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said his government didn’t expect an immediate test.

The U.S. military in South Korea and the State Department in Washington had no immediate comment.

U.S. officials are considering ways to improve relations with North Korea once it returns to international talks on ending its nuclear weapons program, but said Thursday they are dangling no new incentives to restart the stalled talks.

The New York Times reported that top advisers to President Bush have recommended beginning negotiations on a peace treaty on a parallel track with the disarmament talks.

The White House urged North Korea to return to the multilateral talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, which began in 2003.

“Unfortunately, you can’t have anything new until North Korea has taken the first step of going back to the six-party talks,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said. “We’ve been very clear, North Korea comes back to the table, we proceed from that point on.”

North Korea shocked the world in 1998 by launching a Taepodong-1 missile over its territory and into the Pacific Ocean. The North said it was an attempt to put a satellite in orbit.

North Korea announced a moratorium on long-range missile tests in 1999 but has since test-fired short-range missiles many times, including two in early March.

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