- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009


Japan‘s ambassador to the United States said Wednesday that North Korea should not escape punishment from the United Nations if it goes ahead with a planned missile launch.

Ichiro Fujisaki declined, however, to discuss any military options Tokyo may be considering in response to a missile test, although Japanese law permits the country to shoot down objects deemed a threat to national security.

North Korea has said that it will launch a “communications satellite” between April 4 and April 8. But the United States and other countries think it will be a test of a long-range ballistic missile that could reach Alaska.

“No matter what it is called” - satellite or missile - “it’s in contravention to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1695 and 1718, which prohibit missile-related activities by North Korea,” Mr. Fujisaki told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

Even though the ambassador said he was not aware of any official discussions by the Japanese government regarding a military response to a launch, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported Wednesday that Tokyo “will clear the way for the deployment of ballistic missile interceptors as it prepares for the possibility a North Korean rocket could fall toward its territory.”

North Korea’s threats have been a hot topic in Asian diplomacy and media for more than a month. They also have affected the airline industry, with several carriers saying they will alter flight plans to avoid crossing through North Korean airspace.

North Korea has resisted mounting international pressure to cancel the launch and warned that any attempt to shoot down the rocket would be regarded as an act of war.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed the missile launch with officials in Japan, South Korea and China during her trip to Asia last month, though no decisions on common action were announced. Mrs. Clinton repeatedly warned the North not to proceed with a launch and urged it to abandon its threatening rhetoric.

“Japan and United States are trying to cooperate with others to try to prevent this from occurring,” Mr. Fujisaki said of the missile test. “We hope that this will not happen.” He added that China, North Korea’s main economic supporter, also should put pressure on Pyongyang.

If a launch occurs, the Security Council should impose more sanctions, he said. “We have to take measures which would be sufficient to let them know that the international society does not permit such contravention.”

Mr. Fujisaki said, however, that “nothing has been yet decided” in terms of penalties.

The North first tested a Taepodong-2 missile in the summer of 2006, but it failed after 40 seconds. Three months later, in October, it carried out its underground nuclear test.

The Security Council responded by banning U.N. members from exporting luxury goods and items with potential military use to North Korea.

The timing of North Korea’s threats has aroused speculation about its motives.

It is showing bellicosity as the Obama administration says it is eager to begin talks and has appointed a special envoy, Stephen Bosworth, to engage with Pyongyang. The communist state, however, has shown no interest in sitting down with the Americans. It also has been stalling on resuming six-nation negotiations aimed at dismantling its nuclear programs.

The State Department said Tuesday that the North has notified Washington that it will no longer accept U.S. food aid.

Mr. Fujisaki suggested that the North is trying to up the ante and better position itself before negotiations resume. The regime in Pyongyang also is known for its brinkmanship and for constantly seeking international attention.

The issue of succession, which Mrs. Clinton raised openly during her Asia trip, also could be a factor. There has been uncertainty about who is controlling the government - and who may succeed the country’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il - since Mr. Kim reportedly suffered a stroke in August.

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