North Korea Conducts Missile Test: US
North Korea apparently fired a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan on Sunday, the US government said, calling on its allies to express concern to the nuclear-armed Stalinist country.
North Korea did not report any test. But Japanese and South Korean officials, quoted by media in their countries, confirmed they had been told of the event by the United States.
North Korea rattled its neighbours in 1998 by test-firing a Taepodong-1 long range missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. It has carried out other tests of short range missiles since then.
The latest North Korean action could heighten concerns about its intentions as it continues to boycott six-nation talks on its nuclear arms program.
Japanese broadcaster NHK said the missile was fired from the east coast of North Korea and flew about 100 kilometers (62 miles) until it fell into the sea. The United States informed Japan and South Korea after monitoring the launch of the missile, reports said.
White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card confirmed that North Korea had staged the missile test.
"We're not surprised by this. The North Koreans have tested their missiles before. They've had some failures," Card told CNN television.
The US State Department added: "It appears that North Korea on May 1 conducted a launch of a short-range missile in the Sea of Japan. We are continuing to look into this.
"We are consulting closely with governments in the region. We have long been concerned about North Korea's missile program and activities, and urge North Korea to continue its moratorium on ballistic missile tests."
The United States has backed international talks on North Korea's nuclear program. But the talks -- involving North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan -- have been stalled since last year.
"We have to work together with our allies around the world -- especially the Japanese, the South Koreans, the Russians and the Chinese -- to demonstrate that North Korea's actions are inappropriate," Card said.
"We don't want them to have any nuclear weapons, we don't want the Korean peninsula to have any nuclear weapons on it."
The director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency said last week that North Korea is believed capable of arming a long-range missile with a nuclear warhead and could deploy a two-stage intercontinental missile that could hit US territory.
DIA director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby made his remarks in testimony Thursday before the Senate Armed Services committee. He told lawmakers the North Korean weapons could reach "certainly Alaska and Hawaii, and I believe a portion of the northwest" United States.
Officials have since played down Jacoby's remarks, while not denying them.
"We don't know that he can, but there is increasing evidence of capability," Card said.
"We know that North Korea for a long time has been building rockets, variants of the Scud. And we don't think that they have had much success in their testing of all of these rockets, multistage rockets."
Japan's Jiji Press news agency said the missile was fired at about 8:00 am (2300 GMT Saturday). According to Kyodo News, Japan was informed of the test by the US military and cabinet members were told to prepare for an emergency.
"I think they (North Koreans) are looking to kind of be bullies in the world and they're causing others to stand up and take notice, but they're not very constructive leaders," Card told Fox News television.
Card renewed US condemnation of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il. "He's someone that we don't have great confidence in terms of keeping his word."
North Korea has stridently rejected calls to return to the negotiating table.
A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said Saturday that Pyongyang "does not expect any solution to the nuclear issue or any progress in the DPRK-US relations during his (President George W. Bush's) term."
The statement came after Bush Thursday described Kim Jong-Il as "a dangerous person" and said Washington was developing a "comprehensive strategy" to deal with North Korea, including work on a missile defense system.
The US president's remarks followed a series of bellicose statements by North Korea about its nuclear weapons amid warnings that Pyongyang was rapidly improving its capabilities.
The North's short-range missile launches have been more routine, but have often been timed to send signals. In March 2003, it lobbed two short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan coinciding with the inauguration of South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun.
The North Korean test came one day before the opening of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty conference in New York. Some 190 nations are expected to attend the conference.
Since 1968, some 188 nations have signed the treaty, which bars the transfer of nuclear weapons and arms technology.
earlier related report
North Korea has the capability of mounting a nuclear warhead on its missiles that could hit the United States, a senior US defense official said Thursday.
Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, gave the assessment during a Congressional hearing.
Asked by Senator Hillary Clinton whether North Korea had the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear device, Jacoby said: "The assessment is that they have the capability to do that, yes, ma'am."
He said that North Korea also had the ability to deploy a two-stage intercontinental missile that could successfully hit US territory.
"Assessed to be within their capacity, yes," Jacoby told Clinton during the hearing on the defense intelligence budget of the US Senate Armed Services Committee.
North Korea said this month it had shut down its nuclear power plant at Yongbyon and was preparing to reprocess the plant's spent fuel, a move that could result in the production of enough plutonium to build up to six more nuclear bombs.
Reports quoting a US official said last week that the United States believed North Korea was planning to test a nuclear weapon and has asked China to intervene.
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