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U.S. Sees North Korea Going Ahead With Missile Launch

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2 Apr 09 | Bloomberg

The U.S. expects North Korea to go ahead with the launch of a satellite-bearing missile, an Obama administration official said, as Kim Jong Il’s regime threatened military action against any attempt to shoot it down.

President Barack Obama told his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-Bak, at the Group of 20 nations summit in London today he won’t allow North Korea to drive a wedge between them, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Obama praised Lee for exercising restraint in dealing with provocations from the North. Both leaders agreed to respond to the launch by registering a firm protest with the United Nations.

North Korea said last month it plans to launch a missile carrying a communications satellite into orbit between April 4 and April 8 as part of a peaceful space project. The U.S. and South Korea say that would violate a UN resolution and that evidence suggests North Korea is instead planning to test a Taepodong-2 missile capable of reaching Alaska. Japan ordered any North Korean object entering its airspace to be shot down.

South Korea is “one of America’s closest allies and greatest friends,” Obama told reporters before today’s meeting, thanking Lee for his country’s “outstanding contribution” in Afghanistan. Obama did not respond to a question shouted by a reporter about a possible missile launch.

‘Thunderbolt of Revenge’

North Korea’s military today vowed a “thunderbolt of revenge” if Japanese defense forces try to shoot down the rocket. North Korea will hit back against “any small move to shoot down our peaceful satellite launch,” the communist nation’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement carried by the official Korea Central News Agency.

The warning came three days after North Korea vowed to wage war against Japan if it tried to intercept the missile. Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada deployed guided-missile units around Tokyo on March 27 and ordered the interception of any North Korean object entering his country’s airspace.

Cash-strapped North Korea is the world’s top supplier of ballistic-missile technology to potential U.S. adversaries such as Iran and Syria, Army General Walter Sharp, the head of U.S. forces in Korea, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 19.

North-South Tensions

Tensions between North and South Korea have risen since Lee took office in February last year, promising “stricter” monitoring of economic cooperation. North Korea shut its borders twice last week to protest U.S.-South Korean joint military drills.

Obama, who is in London for the G-20 summit that aims to draft a unified response to the financial crisis, discussed North Korea yesterday with the leaders of China and Russia, according to administration officials who briefed reporters after those meetings. Obama told China’s Hu Jintao that the U.S. would take up any missile launch by Pyongyang with the UN Security Council.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on March 29 that Washington has no plans to shoot down the missile. Such U.S. action would only occur if the North Korea missile appeared to be headed toward Hawaii, and defense officials don’t believe “this missile can do that,” Gates said.

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Written by Editors

2 April 2009 at 7:28 am

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