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Archive for Saturday, March 8, 2003

N. Korea may test missile that could hit U.S.

March 8, 2003

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— A military expert with close ties to North Korea warned Friday that Pyongyang would test a ballistic missile capable of "splashing down off Los Angeles or New York" if the Bush administration refuses to negotiate with the communist regime.

Kim Myong-chol, the executive director of the Tokyo-based Center for Korean-American Peace, who is viewed as an unofficial spokesman for Pyongyang, said North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il intended to produce dozens of nuclear weapons in a bid to "neutralize" U.S. influence on the Korean peninsula and bring about reunification of North and South Korea.

Hours after he spoke, the Pentagon announced that North Korea had declared a maritime exclusion zone off its coast in the Sea of Japan -- warning ships to avoid the area -- in a sign that Pyongyang may intend to fire another missile in the next few days. North Korea made a similar announcement days before the Feb. 24 test of an antiship missile.

The Defense Department downplayed the announcement, saying it was not "overly concerned" about the possibility of a missile test. A test firing would be the latest in a series of provocative moves by the isolated Pyongyang regime.

Tensions between the United States and North Korea rose last weekend when North Korean jet fighters surrounded a US RC-135 reconnaissance plane flying over the Sea of Japan. The United States has in the last week moved long-range bombers to Guam, in the western Pacific, within range of North Korea.

"Kim (Jong Il)'s first duty is to reunite North and South and eliminate that which stands in its way," Kim Myong-chol said, referring to the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. A Japanese-born Korean who received his graduate education in Pyongyang, Kim is believed to be close to North Korea's leadership. A year ago, he correctly predicted North Korea would force international nuclear inspectors to leave the country and start up a nuclear reactor capable of producing dangerous plutonium. He has written two books outlining North Korean military doctrine.

On Thursday, President Bush said in a nationally televised news conference that multilateral negotiations, involving nations such as Russia, China and South Korea, were the best way to contain Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

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