SEOUL, July 5 (Yonhap) — North Korea on Wednesday grabbed the international spotlight from the crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions by test-launching several missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2, in defiance of stern U.S. warnings.
The unpredictable state reminded the world that it does not easily succumb to U.S. pressure, a tactic apparently aimed at raising its bargaining position in its showdown with the world’s sole superpower.
Analysts in Seoul said North Korean military leaders appear to have nostalgia for the era of U.S. President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s, when they sent a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan. The North’s move prompted the U.S. administration to reconsider its North Korea policy and begin talks with the recalcitrant regime.
But Wednesday’s missile test, albeit not unexpected, is likely to harden the U.S. position for the time being, as well as put Seoul in a more serious dilemma over the efficacy of its years-long campaign to reconcile with the communist neighbor, they added.
South Korea shared the U.S. stance of deep regret over the North’s “unwise, provocative act.”
The government stressed that the missile test will deepen the North’s isolation and affect inter-Korean ties. Wednesday’s test launches included the Taepodong-2, which failed, some conventional Scud missiles and the North’s modified Scud nicknamed “Rodong” (labor).
“North Korea should assume full responsibility for the consequences of its missile launches,” Suh Choo-suk, the senior presidential secretary for security policy, said in a nationally televised statement.
He said it was very regrettable that North Koreans ignored the South’s warnings and launched the missiles, which will bolster the hard-line position of the international community and undermine peace and security in Northeast Asia by leading to an arms race in the region.
“(The government) expresses deep regret, as it was an unwise act to have a negative impact including the worsening of public sentiment on North Korea,” Suh said.
The official said South Korea will take emergency steps to deal with the crisis through close consultations with the U.S. and its other allies.
President Roh Moo-hyun was presiding over a meeting of security-related ministers including Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who discussed countermeasures with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by phone earlier in the day.
“The government will deliver a strong message to North Korea and seek the resolution (to the crisis) via close consulations with related nations,” Ban told reporters, entering the venue at Cheong Wa Dae.
Analysts in Seoul agreed that the North’s move will likely further complicate international efforts to resume the six-way talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear program and deal a heavy blow to burgeoning inter-Korean rapproachment.
South Korea has said it would link the North’s missile activity to its provision of food and fertilizer aid to its impoverished neighbor. Seoul has already been under fire for continuing to provide aid to the North even though Pyongyang remains stubborn on the nuclear crisis.
Some officials question whether the inter-Korean ministerial talks slated for next week in Busan will take place.
The South Korean military was placed on a state of high alert, after Gen. B. B. Bell, commander of the United States Forces Korea (USFK) met with Gen. Rhee Sang-hee, chairman of South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff.
In Washington, U.S. officials said their spy satellites detected five North Korean missile launches, adding that another missile, presumed to be a long-range Taepodong-2, failed within a minute after blast-off.
“We do consider it provocative behavior,” U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley told reporters.
“You are going to see a lot of diplomatic activity here in the next 24-48 hours,” he said, adding that Pyongyang may have been trying to draw attention when the international community appeared to be focused on Iran.
The U.S. and Japan are swiftly moving to raise the missile issue at the United Nations.
They held urgent consultations with other U.N. Security Council members, which are expected to convene later Wednesday to discuss the issue.
Washington said it plans to send its top nuclear negotiator to Asia to discuss countermeasures.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy to six-way talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, will travel to the region as early as Thursday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. The nuclear talks also involve South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.
“We are going to be consulting on diplomatic next steps. We are going to do that in capitals and up at the U.N. as well,” he said.
Japan harshly condemned the North’s activity.
“It is regrettable, and we protest strongly against North Korea for going ahead with a launch despite warnings from relevant countries, including Japan,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said.
Japan decided to ban a North Korean ferry, which shuttles between the two nations on a regular basis, from entering a Japanese port, the first concrete punishment of Pyongyang for its missile test.
North Korea has not officially announced the launches.
“We diplomats do not know what the (North Korean) military is doing,” Han Song-ryol, deputy chief of the North’s mission to the United Nations, was quoted as saying in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.
Earlier, Japanese media reported that North Korea test-fired several missiles early Wednesday morning that landed off the western coast of Japan.
Pyongyang’s move followed weeks of reports that it was preparing to launch a long-range Taepodong-2 that is believed to be capable of reaching the western U.S.
The U.S. and Japan had warned that North Korea would face stern measures if it fired a missile in breach of its self-declared moratorium on missile testing in 1999.
North Korea declared last year that it succeeded in developing nuclear weapons.