Friday, March 27, 2009

Japan to 'Intercept' North Korea Rocket

Friday, March 27, 2009
12:41 Mecca time, 09:41 GMT

Japan to 'intercept' N Korea rocket

Japan is expected to deploy two warships armed with missile interceptors

The Japanese government has approved the deployment and use of missile interceptors as it moves to counter any threat from North Korea's planned rocket launch.

The announcement comes amid rising tensions in the region, as intelligence agencies say North Korea is pressing ahead with the planned launch, expected between April 4 and 8.

Japan's defence minister said on Friday that the government approval clears the way for use of interceptors if the rocket is considered a threat to Japanese territory.

"I issued the necessary order after the security council this morning decided to issue a destruction order in advance," Yasukazu Hamada said after a meeting with Taro Aso, the prime minister, and other cabinet ministers.

"We will do our best to handle any flying object from North Korea in order to assure the Japanese people's safety and security."

Against this backdrop of rising tensions, Russia urged North Korea to refrain from its planned rocket launch.

"North Korea would be better off refraining from it," Alexei Borodavkin, Russia's deputy foreign minister, said in Moscow, according to Russian news agencies.

Planned deployment

As part of its preparations, Japan is expected to deploy two warships to the Sea of Japan (East Sea), as well as land-based interceptors in its the northern Akita and Iwate prefectures.

Officials in Pyongyang have warned the rocket's first booster would land in the Sea of Japan, while the second stage would drop into the Pacific Ocean between Japan and Hawaii.

While the North Korean government claims the rocket launch is aimed at space development, there are international concerns that it is a cover for a long-range missile test.

Japan has developed a missile defence system with the US in recent years, and has previously warned it will attempt to shoot down any missile or debris that threatens to hit its territory.

Pyongyang said it would regard any attempt to shoot down or otherwise interfere with its rocket as an act of war.

US-South Korean talks

With tensions rising, South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator travelled to Washington on Friday to discuss strategies aimed at countering the North's planned rocket launch.

"As North Korea's rocket launch preparations gather pace, I will have consultations on the issue and the six-way talks [on the North's nuclear programme]," Wi Sung-lac said before his departure.

He is expected to meet Stephen Bosworth, the US special representative for North Korea, and Sung Kim, his assistant.

Wi said that he will also meet Akitaka Saiki, his Japanese counterpart, who will also be in Washington.

North Korea has threatened to pull out of the six-nation talks on its nuclear programme if any moves are made to punish it for the rocket launch.

Dennis Blair, the US national intelligence director, said North Korea was trying to disguise the continued development of its long-range missile programme by using a Taeopodong-2 missile to place a small satellite into orbit.

"I think North Korea is attempting to demonstrate an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) capability through a space launch,'' he told reporters in Washington on Thursday.

"That's what they are up to - trying to use the rationale of a legitimate space launch for a missile which is, in its foundation, a military missile - the Taepodong."


Blair also said North Korea risks "international opprobrium and hopefully worse if they successfully launch or launch it at all".

Speaking during a visit to Mexico on Thursday, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state warned that Washington would take the issue to the United Nations if the launch goes ahead.

She also said the plans are in violation of a Security Council resolution passed in 2006.

The resolution prohibits North Korea from conducting long-range missile tests, or using a rocket to send a satellite into space.

Source: Agencies

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