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Wednesday, August 18, 1999 Published at 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

N.Korea ready for missile talks

Big military exercises are taking place in South Korea

North Korea has said it is ready to discuss concerns over its missile programme with other nations.

The announcement comes at a time of growing tension in the region over North Korea's suspected plan to test-fire a new Taepodong II long-range missile that is believed to be capable of hitting parts of the United States.

"As regards the missile issue, we are always ready for negotiation if the hostile nations honestly ask for it out of an intention to alleviate our concern," said a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

North Korea shocked the region last year when, without prior warning, it launched what was believed to be a medium-range Taepodong I missile over Japan and into the Pacific.

Pyongyang said it had launched a satellite over Japan and not a ballistic missile.

Self-defence missiles

The spokesman said North Korea had developed missiles because the United States had consistently posed a threat by stationing itself in rival South Korea.


[ image:  ]
"We have been compelled to develop missiles entirely because the United States ... still harbours a wild ambition for military invasion of the DPRK (North Korea).

"This is a self-defence measure we have adopted unavoidably," the spokesman said.

"There would be no reason for us to fire missiles at the US if they were not a warring party and if they did nothing harmful to us, even if our missiles can reach the US mainland," he said.

Japan, as well as the United States and South Korea, have urged Pyongyang not to test-fire the missile and have warned North Korea of "serious consequences" if it goes ahead with another missile test.

On Tuesday, Japanese officials said they did not detect any signs suggesting that North Korea would fire its missile in the next two months.

Military exercises

North Korea's announcement comes as thousands of troops from the United States and South Korea take part in a 12-day military exercise.

The exercises, described as among the biggest ever conducted by Washington and Seoul, involve 14,000 US soldiers stationed in South Korea and 5,400 others brought from the US mainland, Japan and Guam, along with 56,000 South Korean troops.

North Korea warned that the exercises could set off a war on the Korean peninsula and adversely affect talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

The two Koreas ended their 1950-53 conflict with a truce, but signed no peace agreement, so they are still technically at war.



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