Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has disclosed that North Korea has produced up to five additional long-range missiles, but that none appears ready for launch.
“We do believe and they’re assessed to have something like three or four or five additional Taepodong-2 airframes somewhere in their country,” Mr. Rumsfeld said in an interview Saturday with radio talk-show host Monica Crowley.
However, the defense secretary said that “there are no Taepodong-2s on launching pads at the present time.”
“The one they fired didn’t work and it failed,” he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said North Korea poses a danger because of Pyongyang’s admission that it possesses nuclear weapons and its demonstrated ballistic-missile capability.
“We do not at the moment know whether or not they have developed the ability to mate a nuclear weapon with a ballistic missile,” he said.
A transcript of the radio interview was made public yesterday by the Pentagon. It was the first official mention of North Korea’s additional long-range missiles, which have a range of up to 9,300 miles.
North Korea has not been able to successfully show that it has an intercontinental missile, “although the intelligence people estimate that the TD-2 does have that capability,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
“They just haven’t demonstrated it yet,” he said. “But they’re a worrisome country.”
Asked whether the United States should take pre-emptive military action against North Korea to stop further launches, Mr. Rumsfeld said President Bush has decided to use diplomacy in coordination with the governments of China, South Korea, Japan and Russia to deal with the problem.
“Time will tell whether that will work,” he said.
A military official at the Colorado-based U.S. Northern Command said U.S. military sensors are continuing to monitor North Korea for signs of missile activity.
“We’re not aware of anything that is imminent,” the official said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said North Korea is a leading rogue state that is selling ballistic-missile technology, counterfeiting U.S. currency, trafficking in illicit drugs and is on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
“One has to believe that they would be willing to sell fissile material if they believed they had a sufficient quantity,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “So they represent an immediate threat from a proliferation standpoint.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon conducted a successful test yesterday of a new missile-defense system designed to shoot down missiles as they approach their targets in the so-called terminal phase of flight.
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, shot down a target missile at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, according to Defense Department officials.
The THAAD is an Army missile defense used to shoot down short-range missiles, and deployment is expected in 2009.