Hours Before President Obama’s Anti-Nuke Speech, North Korea Launches Missile

By Jaketapper

Apr 5, 2009 1:58am

PRAGUE — As he tried to grab a few hours rest in the Czech Republic last night, President Obama was woken up with the bad news that the North Korean government had launched a Taepo-dong 2 missile, which entered Japanese airspace.

Military analysts say the Taepo-dong 2 missile has the potential of being able to reach Alaska, Hawaii, or the Western United States. World leaders, including President Obama on Friday, had issued repeated warnings to the rogue regime that such an act would be considered a "provocative" act and would further isolate the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from the international community.

North Korea claimed its missile launch was merely a way to put a communications satellite into orbit. Confirmation of the launch by the Pentagon occurred at approximately 10:30 pm ET, 4:30 am here in Prague. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs immediately woke up the president after receiving word of the confirmation.

At an event at the Prague Castle with President Klaus and Prime Minister Topolanek of the Czech Republic this morning, President Obama said that "North Korea made a launch this morning that defies U.N. Security Council resolutions, (and) that harms peace and stability for Northeast Asia."

President Obama was referring to, among others, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718, passed in October 2006, which demanded that North Korea refrain from conducting any further tests of ballistic missiles. 

North Korea’s "development of a ballistic missile capability, regardless of the stated purpose of this launch, is aimed at providing it with the ability to threaten countries near and far with weapons of mass destruction," the president said, saying the launch "demands a response from the international community, including from the United Nations Security Council to demonstrate that its resolution cannot be defied with impunity."

The President said today that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice "have already been reaching out" to allies in the region, including Japan and South Korea, as well as fellow members of the U.N. Security Council so as to plan to bring the matter before the Council.

"The launch only underscores the urgency" of the message of his nuclear non-proliferation speech, the president said, referring to his pending address about working towards “a world without nuclear weapons."

Gibbs told reporters today that the launch "was not a surprise," and that President Obama has been involved in several meetings about its likelihood over the past three to four weeks. The president today consulted with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman Gen. James Cartwright, as chairman Admiral Mike Mullen is traveling. He also consulted with aides traveling with him, including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones (Ret.), and various intelligence officials.

"This was something that has long been planned for," Gibbs said. "Had at any moment we determined this launch posed a threat to the United States, we’d have taken the necessary steps."

In a paper statement issued last night, President Obama said that “North Korea’s development and proliferation of ballistic missile technology pose a threat to the northeast Asian region and to international peace and security….With this provocative act, North Korea has ignored its international obligations, rejected unequivocal calls for restraint, and further isolated itself from the community of nations.”

The president today reiterated his support for the Six-Party Talks begun under President George W. Bush, a diplomatic initiative with the U.S., Japan, China, Russia, North Korea and South Korea to ensure a denuclearized Korea peninsula.

The launch was immediately condemned by other world leaders.

"These actions place additional strains on regional stability at a time when the unresolved nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula requires mutual confidence-building," read a statement from the European Union, which called upon North Korea to "immediately suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile programme and abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner".

Mr. Obama will speak within the hour about the international nuclear threat, including his goals to “reduce and eventually eliminate existing nuclear arsenals, halt proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional states, and prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons or materials,” the White House says.

He will also discuss the goal of a enforcing the global ban on nuclear testing – the  Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty – as well as a new international treaty to halt the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. He will call for strengthening the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and securing so-called “loose nukes.”  The U.S. will also host a Global Summit on Nuclear Security.

Earlier this week, President Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev announced their two nations would begin discussion a new strategic arms reduction treaty to reduce each country’s combined nuclear arsenal to 3,000 missiles.

- jpt

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