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North Korea Missile Launch Looking Unlikely Say Analysts

US and Asian officials have said North Korea has made preparations to launch a Taepodong-2, which could hit Alaska or possibly Hawaii. The United States and Japan have both warned that such a move would lead to serious consequences.
by Harumi Ozawa
Tokyo (AFP) Jun 25, 2006
More than a week after alarm bells went off over a potential North Korean missile launch, experts believe a test is unlikely and that preparations for it were a way to gain US attention.

Japan was spending a second weekend on guard for a possible long-range Taepodong-2 missile from North Korea, which has returned to the spotlight amid a half-year standstill in talks on ending its nuclear program.

But North Korea has already succeeded in returning to Washington's agenda and has few other bargaining chips, said Narushige Michishita, a specialist on Korea at the National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo.

"I tend to think ... they are not going to launch a missile this time around," he said, while warning that Pyongyang was always a "malicious user of surprise".

"They can launch a missile any time later," he said. "To use their small number of bargaining chips to the best outcome, they have to divide them into smaller pieces and use them one at a time rather than use everything at once."

Michishita, who spoke to reporters here Friday, said it would be "wasteful" for the North Koreans not to use this launch at a more strategic time as they did when they fired missiles in 1993 and 1998.

"In the two previous cases, the North Koreans were quite successful, achieving what they tried to achieve," Michishita said.

North Korea fired a Nodong missile in 1993 soon after withdrawing for the first time from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. A few months later Washington agreed to bilateral talks, eventually leading to a deal that provided the North with energy reactors in return for renouncing nuclear arms.

North Korea fired a long-range Taepodong-1 in 1998 over Japan into the Pacific Ocean while Washington and Pyongyang were holding talks in New York.

"It was a kind of a shock to the US negotiators because they were talking when the North Koreans launched it. But in the North Koreans' rational thinking, it made sense," Michishita said. "It was a kind of a push for them for the American negotiators to make concessions."

The latest crisis erupted in 2002 when the United States accused North Korea of secretly enriching uranium.

Pyongyang last year declared it had nuclear weapons and has shunned six-nation talks since November, pushing for the United States to lift financial sanctions imposed over alleged money laundering and counterfeiting.

US and Asian officials have said North Korea has made preparations to launch a Taepodong-2, which could hit Alaska or possibly Hawaii. The United States and Japan have both warned that such a move would lead to serious consequences.

Robert Dujarric, a senior associate at the US National Institute for Public Policy, said firing a missile would hurt the North's relationships with China and South Korea, which have taken softer stances.

"The effect of Taepodong would push China and South Korea -- in South Korea there will be elections next year -- towards a more anti-North Korean point of view," said Dujarric, currently a visiting fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs.

"So far China has made the decision it is better to have North Korea, despite its problems, than getting rid of it," he said.

"Because getting rid of it would open up the Pandora's box of problems including, possibly, refugees, possibly violence within North Korea, unification under the pro-US government in the South."

But Lee Yeong-Hwa, a Korean resident in Japan and an expert on North Korea at Kansai University, warned that the moves to launch a missile could indicate a power rift within the regime.

"North Koreans wouldn't (get any) benefit from the United States by launching the missile now," said Lee, who has helped North Korean defectors.

"I think it is internal strife in which the military tries to ensure its higher stance and control," he said of the moves towards a launch.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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