Japan Says N. Korea Test-Fired Missile
TOKYO (AP) _ North Korea test-fired an anti-ship missile off its west coast Tuesday, Japanese officials said, in an apparent response to Japan’s launching of spy satellites to monitor the communist nation.
However, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said there was no evidence that North Korea had test-fired a missile.
``South Korean and U.S. military intelligence officials have checked on the report and concluded that there was no missile launch by North Korea,″ a ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
In Washington earlier, a Pentagon official had confirmed the launch of the ground-to-ship missile, but said the United States does not view it as a threat. A spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry had called the alleged launch ``routine.″
There was no immediate explanation of the conflicting reports.
A North Korean test of the short-range missile would come just days after Japan launched two satellites into orbit to keep watch over Pyongyang’s missile and suspected nuclear arms programs. That launch angered the communist state, which had threatened to test-fire a missile.
Japanese Defense Agency spokesman Manabu Shimamoto said Tuesday’s launch was not a direct threat since the missile was aimed away from Japan.
``We believe it is a ground-to-ship missile that is impossible to reach Japan,″ Shimamoto said.
The missile was fired from the northwestern coast of the Korean Peninsula, Japanese Defense Agency official Takamasa Iba said.
The range of the missile is about 37 miles, said Kiyoju Arai, an official at the land and transport ministry.
In Seoul, the U.S. military said that American stealth fighter jets and other aircraft and troops in South Korea for joint war games will remain once the exercises are finished to act as a deterrent against North Korea.
Six F-117A radar-evading airplanes and other forces have been here for the past month for war games with the South’s military.
``Extending their training time in the Korean Theater of Operations affords an excellent opportunity to further enhance interoperability while also enhancing deterrence,″ a statement from the American military said.
It said that in addition to an unspecified number of stealth aircraft, some F-15E fighter jets and a small Army task force would stay.
The retention of the stealth fighters is likely to escalate tension on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles in late February and early March amid tensions over its suspected nuclear weapons programs. Washington and South Korea have criticized the tests as attempts to force the United States into direct talks.
With the United States focused on the war in Iraq, some experts say North Korea might exploit the opportunity to test long-range missiles or reprocess spent nuclear fuel to make atomic bombs.
The Korean nuclear crisis flared in October last year, when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted having a nuclear program.
Washington and its allies suspended fuel shipments, and the North retaliated by expelling U.N. monitors, withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and restarting a nuclear reactor.