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North Korea's 'satellite launch' called a ruse

TOKYO — By announcing that it is preparing to launch a "communications satellite," North Korea on Tuesday dressed up its planned test of a long-range ballistic missile — which might be able to reach Alaska — as a benign research project.

"Outer space is an asset common to mankind, and its use for peaceful purposes has become a global trend," said a spokesman for the North Korean Committee of Space Technology.

North Korea's announcement comes amid warnings from the United States not to test the missile. A United Nations resolution, passed after North Korea exploded a nuclear device in 2006, bans the country from any ballistic missile activity.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last week that a missile test would "be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward." In a tour of East Asia, she urged the government of Kim Jong Il to stop its "provocative actions."

North Korea appears to be setting up radar and other monitoring equipment around a missile launch site on its northeast coast, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Tuesday. It said, however, that a missile has not yet been placed on the launch pad.

Eleven years ago, North Korea surprised the world by firing a long-range, three-stage Taepodong-1 missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean. Afterward, amid an international outcry, North Korean officials said that the country had merely exercised its right to "space development."

That launch and another round of North Korean missile tests in 2006 alarmed Japan, which has since invested heavily in American-made ballistic missile defense systems.

These systems raise the possibility that a North Korean missile launch — even one advertised in advance as a peaceful space probe — could be destroyed in flight.

Analysts say knocking down a North Korean missile could precipitate a much greater regional crisis than the initial launch.

Daniel Pinkston, who works for the International Crisis group, said that Kim's government has much to gain and little to lose from launching a satellite atop its long-range missile, especially if it gets shot down by an American-made weapon.

He said that if the missile is shot down, it will give North Korea an excuse to back out of negotiations with the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia over its nuclear weapons program.

"The best thing is no launch or the thing blows up on the launch pad. All the other scenarios are bad," Pinkston said.

Syria has built missile facility on reactor site

Syria has revealed that it has built a missile facility over the ruins of what the United States says was a nuclear reactor, diplomats said Tuesday. Citing comments by Syrian nuclear chief Ibrahim Othman at a closed meeting in Vienna on Tuesday, the diplomats said the new structure appeared to be a missile control center or launch pad. The two demanded anonymity for divulging details about what Othman told the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board. Israel bombed the site in September 2007. Washington subsequently presented intelligence purporting to show that the target in the Syrian desert was a nearly finished nuclear reactor built with North Korean help that would have been able to produce plutonium once completed. Syria has denied secret nuclear activities but has blocked IAEA inspectors.

Associated Press

North Korea's 'satellite launch' called a ruse 02/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 10:51pm]
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