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Japan says N Korea missile launch not imminent

Written by: Staff
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Tokyo, Jun 13: Japan does not expect North Korea to conduct a ballistic missile test launch any time soon, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said today, commenting after a a US official predicted that a test could be imminent.

A US official in Washington said yesterday that Pyongyang was making plans to test a missile that could reach the United States, and that the launch could happen within weeks.

Another official said, however, that there was some debate over whether the North would follow through on its preparations.

''We understand that a missile launch is not imminent,'' Abe told a news conference, reiterating Tokyo's call on Pyongyang to maintain its promised moratorium on missile launches.

''We want North Korea to abide by the Pyongyang Declaration and take action to secure trust from the international community,'' he added, referring to an agreement reached between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2002.

Under that pact, Kim pledged to uphold all international treaties on nuclear issues, extend a moratorium on ballistic missile launches and resolve issues related to the ''lives and security'' of Japanese nationals -- a reference to Japanese kidnapped by Pyongyang's agents decades ago to help train spies.

Japanese media had already reported signs of North Korea making preparations to test a multiple-stage Taepodong 2 missile since early May.

A test would be Pyongyang's first of a long-range missile since it stunned the world in 1998 by firing a Taepodong over Japan that landed in the Pacific Ocean.

North Korea said at that time it had launched a satellite.

Analysts in Tokyo said Pyongyang was probably trying, by tacitly threatening a missile launch, to prod Washington into finding a way to resume talks on North Korea's nuclear programme.

Those talks have been stalemated and Washington's attention has shifted to concerns that Iran is building a nuclear weapon.

Tehran says it only seeks to produce peaceful energy.

Experts believe North Korea does not have an operational missile that could reach the United States.

But a study by the Monterey Institute's Center for Non-proliferation studies said a two-stage Taepodong 2 would, in theory, be able to reach parts of US territory and a three-stage version could hit most of the continental United States.

REUTERS

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