Wednesday, July 5, 2006

North Korea launched a volley of missiles yesterday, including a long-range Taepodong-2, which can strike U.S. territory, and five others, including one that landed near Russian territory.

A Pentagon official said there were “multiple launches from multiple locations” and added that more launches may come from North Korea in the coming days.

“They are out to prove a point,” the official said of Pyongyang’s reclusive communist regime.

The White House and U.S. air-defense officials last night said that there were six launches over a four-hour period.

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea launched six ballistic missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2 missile,” the U.S. Northern Command said last night.

The 9,300-mile-range Taepodong-2, which can reach parts of the United States, appeared to have failed after 42 seconds of flight, said U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Officials had no other details on the failed Taepodong test or the missile that landed close to Russia. The other launches were of shorter-range missiles — the 620-mile-range Nodong missile and a Scud-type missile with a range of 300 to 500 miles.

The U.S. government was prepared to shoot down the Taepodong-2 if it appeared to be heading to U.S. or allied territory, using the new limited missile-defense system with interceptors deployed in Alaska and California.

The White House said North Korea’s decision to escalate its nuclear standoff with the international community by test-firing missiles will further alienate it from the international community.

“The North Koreans have again clearly isolated themselves,” White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters.

“We do consider it provocative behavior,” National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley said.

President Bush had met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mr. Hadley, Mr. Snow said.

Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state, is to head to the region today, and Mr. Hadley is to meet with his South Korean counterpart, a meeting in Washington that already had been scheduled, Mr. Snow said.

One administration official told The Washington Times that the missile launches were expected, as preparations for them had been detected over the past two weeks, adding that the North Koreans appear to have timed the launches for a major U.S. holiday.

Still, the missiles were launched without any formal warning, U.S. officials said, and there were no recent official statements from the North Koreans about testing plans.

“North Korea has gone ahead with the launch, despite international protest,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said. “That is regrettable from the standpoint of Japan’s security, the stability of international society and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

The missiles all landed in the East Sea/Japan Sea, between Japan and Korea, with no reports of damage, Mr. Abe said.

He said the first missile was launched at about 3:30 a.m. today local time (2:30 p.m. EDT yesterday). If the timing is correct, the North Korean missiles were launched within minutes of yesterday’s liftoff of Discovery, which blasted into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in the first U.S. space shuttle launch in a year.

Normally, when missile or space launches are carried out, the governments conducting the tests will issue international notices to airmen and mariners to avoid ocean and airspace where the tests are to be conducted. But North Korea does not follow the same missile-testing protocols as the United States or other nations.

Both Japan and South Korea protested the missile tests, with Tokyo persuading the U.N. Security Council to schedule an emergency meeting for this morning.

“We will take stern measures,” Mr. Abe said today, adding that economic sanctions were a possibility.

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton told reporters that he was “urgently consulting other Security Council members.”

In Beijing, China’s Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the tests. “At this point, we have nothing to say on this,” a spokesman told Agence France-Presse this morning.

In the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, people went about their business as usual today, Kyodo News reported. There was no celebration of the missile launches, or even any official comment. There was no TV broadcast in the morning, and radio news mentioned North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visiting a factory as its top item.

On Monday, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns warned North Korea against firing any missiles and urged the communist country to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear program. The six-party talks, suspended by North Korea, involved negotiations by the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia with Pyongyang over the country’s nuclear program.

It will be several days before analysis of the missile launch is completed and the reasons for the Taepodong failure can be identified. The 1998 Taepodong flight was successful for the first two stages. The last stage failed.

• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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