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Saturday, August 7, 1999 Published at 05:54 GMT 06:54 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

US fears North Korean missile launch

S Korea and Japan have been preparing for possible attack from the North

United States officials say they have uncovered further signs that North Korea could be about to test-fire a long-range missile in defiance of American and Japanese warnings.


The BBC's Andrew Wood: "North Korea's missile programme isn't officially on the agenda. But it's difficult to ignore"
A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said rocket fuel had this week been delivered to what is thought to be the launch site.

This was an additional sign that North Korea may test as early as this month, although no missile had yet been detected at the site, the official said.

US intelligence had also detected activity by North Korean radars at the launch facility this week, including radars expected to be used in tracking a ballistic missile in flight, the official added.

At the latest round of Korean peace talks in Geneva, the senior North Korean negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Gye-gwan, said Pyongyang reserved the "sovereign right" to launch a missile when it saw fit.

The new round of talks, between the two Koreas and their Cold War allies, China and the US, is the sixth since 1997.

The two Koreas ended their 1950-53 conflict with a truce, not a peace agreement, so are still technically at war.

Both the US and South Korea have insisted that North Korea abandon its ballistic missile development as a condition for normalising relations.

'No progress' in talks

With talks due to end on Monday, there were few signs of diplomatic movement.


[ image: Kim Gye-gwan: Fundamental differences between North and South]
Kim Gye-gwan: Fundamental differences between North and South
South Korea's deputy delegation chief, Song Min Sun, said: "There were no tangible results today. The North Korean attitude is serious, but there was no progress."

For his part, the North Korean deputy foreign minister said: "We are not expecting any progress.

"We are making every effort to reach an agreement. We are sincerely discussing with flexibility ... but we have fundamental differences in positions," Kim Gye-gwan said.

Tensions between the South and the North have flared dramatically since the last round of four-party talks in April.

In June, South Korean gunboats sank at least one North Korean vessel during a firefight in the Yellow Sea.

High-level negotiations between the two broke down in Beijing just weeks later.


[ image: Any missile launch is a
Any missile launch is a "matter of sovereignty", North Korea told the US
Japan has renewed its warning of economic measures against North Korea if it repeats last August's suspected test of a medium-range missile over Japanese territory.

Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura warned Pyongyang that another missile test would seriously damage existing ties and said Japan could halt its contributions to North Korea's nuclear programme and freeze the flow of private money.

Under current legislation, Japan cannot cut money to any country without a United Nations resolution or multilateral agreement.

But the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is reported to be planning to revise the legislation to freeze private money flows overseas in any emergency that threatens national security.

Retaliation


The BBC's Graham Satchell reports: "If North Korea launches the rocket it's likely to face stiff retaliation"
The BBC's Korea Correspondent Andrew Wood says the US and its allies would have few options for punishing Pyongyang if it were to launch a missile.

North Korea is already isolated by American sanctions, although Tokyo could cut off payments to the North by Koreans living in Japan.

But our correspondent says humanitarian aid to relieve North Korea's famine seems to be untouchable, as is the international programme to build nuclear reactors in the North to replace its ageing plutonium-producing nuclear installations.

A Kosovo-style attack could bring devastating retaliation on Japan and South Korea, and the latest North Korean missiles might even be just powerful enough to hit the US mainland with a small payload, according to our correspondent.



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