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NKorea warns of arms race in space; US launches massive war games in Pacific
The Associated Press (apwire)     Print Article 
Published 2006-06-20 17:14 (KST)   
SEOUL, South Korea

North Korea warned Tuesday that U.S. moves to build a missile shield are fueling a dangerous arms race in space, as countries in the region urged the communist nation to halt apparent plans to launch a long-range missile.

Amid rising tensions in the region, the United States staged massive war games in the western Pacific Ocean with 22,000 troops and three aircraft carriers that filled the skies with fighter planes. The U.S. ambassador to South Korea conveyed Washington's concerns over a possible missile launch to former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who plans to meet North Korean leaderKim Jong Il next week.

Meanwhile, there were conflicting reports about whether a launch of a missile believed to be capable of reaching the U.S. was imminent.

Bad weather over the purported launch site in North Korea on Tuesday dimmed chances of an immediate launch. The area was very cloudy, with rain expected in the afternoon and into Wednesday morning, said Kim Seung-bae of the South's Korea Meteorological Administration.

A U.S. official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Monday that U.S. intelligence indicated that North Korea had finished fueling its long-range missile.

However, Japan's Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Jinen Nagase said Tuesday that Japan could not confirm that the fueling was completed.

South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, believes North Korea hasn't yet completed fueling the rocket because the 40 fuel tanks seen around a launch site weren't enough to fuel a projectile estimated to be 65 tons, Yonhap news agency reported, quoting lawmakers who attended an intelligence briefing.

There have also been varying expert comments on whether fueling would mean a launch was imminent -- due to the corrosive fuels inside the rocket -- or whether Pyongyang could wait up to a month.

Siphoning the fuel back out of a missile is believed to be difficult.

North Korea lashed out Tuesday at the United States for its missile defense plans, which it said would ''lead to fierce strife for supremacy among the powers in space that was not witnessed even in the Cold War days and touch off a space war in the long run,'' the North's Minju Joson newspaper wrote in a commentary, according to the country's Korean Central News Agency.

The North also criticized Japan. The Pentagon earlier this month said Tokyo was set to buy shipborne missiles and associated equipment from the U.S. to upgrade its missile defense system.

The North claimed Tokyo's new missiles showed an intent to become ''a military giant'' andmount ''overseas aggression,'' the North's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said in commentary carried by KCNA.

South Korea urged its neighbor to abandon a long-range missile launch or face grave consequences.

Seoul ''explained to North Korea the serious repercussions a missile launch would bring and strongly demanded that test fire plans be scrapped,'' ruling Uri Party spokesman Woo Sang-ho said Tuesday in a statement after politicians were briefed by top officials.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday in Washington that test-launching the missile -- believed to be a Taepodong-2 with a firing range experts estimate could be up to 15,000 kilometers (9,300 miles) -- would be a ''very serious matter and, indeed, a provocative act.'' The North has abided by a self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile tests since 1999.

North Korea claims it has nuclear weapons, but isn't believed to have a design that would be small and light enough to top a missile.

The North hasboycotted international nuclear talks since last November, in anger over a U.S. crackdown on its alleged illegal financial activity.

The U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Alexander Vershbow, said after meeting Kim Dae-jung that Washington wants normal relations with the North and urged it to return to the nuclear talks.

''We both agreed that carrying out the test at this time by North Korea would only further compound North Korea's isolation and put it more apart from the international community,'' Vershbow told reporters.

Kim Dae-jung is set to reprise his historic June 2000 summit in Pyongyang that marked the first-and-only meeting of leaders from the North and South, although the indications of a possible missile test are complicating the trip arrangements, one of the former president's aides said Monday.

After its last long-range missile launch in August 1998, the North had said it was seeking to put a satellite in orbit. Pyongyang is widely expected to make a similar claimif it goes ahead with a test launch now.

Vershbow said questions about what the rocket might be carrying were irrelevant given its potential to be used as a weapon.

''The view of the U.S. government is that this missile has military capability and we view it therefore as a serious matter, particularly in the context of North Korea's illegal development of nuclear weapons,'' he said. ''To develop a delivery system for a nuclear weapon only creates a more serious situation and that's why we are urging North Korea not to test and come back to the six-party talks.'' China, North Korea's staunchest ally, urged calm.

''We hope that under the current circumstances, relevant parties can do more in the interest of regional stability and peace,'' said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.

Despite the latest standoff, North and South Korea opened two days of meetings in a North Korean border city on how to expand a joint industrial zone there.
BURT HERMAN
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter The Associated Press

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