North Korea Launched Six Missiles

ByABC News

July 4, 2006 — -- North Korea launched six missiles today, including one believed to be the long-range Taepodong-2, which is believed to be capable of reaching U.S. soil, U.S. government officials said.

The Bush administration called the missile launches "a clear provocation," but said there was no immediate threat to the United States.

The launches today put North Korea in violation of a moratorium on missile testing it signed in 1999.

The first two missiles launched appeared to be short-range missiles -- a Scud and a Nodong -- and both fell into the Sea of Japan. The third -- which broke up less than a minute after it launched -- was the longer range missile, sources said. After that, the North Koreans launched more short-range missiles. With its Scuds, North Korea could only hit targets in South Korea, but the Nodong, which has a range of more than 600 miles, could hit Japan.

The last time North Korea launched a Taepodong missile was in 1998, and that test failed as well.

The Bush administration had warned North Korea against testing the Taepodong-2, and has said Pyongyang should return to the six-party negotiations regarding its nuclear weapons program. North Korea has said it wants one-on-one talks with the United States, a demand the Bush administration has repeatedly spurned.

President Bush was in constant communication with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice andNational Security Adviser Stephen Hadley throughout the afternoon, White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

"There is no immediate threat to the United States," Snow said, but he added: "It is a provocation.... The North Koreans have clearly once again isolated themselves. They had been asked by partners in the region and the other parties in the six-party talks not to launch. They did it. ... We're continuing to analyze the situation."

"The U.S. has been in close and constant communication with its allies.... We have been in active talks with our allies over the past few days," Snow said.

But when he was asked if the United States would "do anything" in response to the launches, Snow said that it isn't a "U.S.-North Korea matter."

Snow said the White House had no speculation as to why the North Koreans would launch five missiles in one day -- and on July 4 at that.

"We really have no idea." But added quickly,"the idea is not to react and escalate this." Better, he said, to remain calm and act diplomatically.

Ambassador Chris Hill, the assistant secretary for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, spoke with his counterparts in Japan, South Korea and China, and he will travel to the region on Wednesday, Snow said.

Hill's trip comes in response to the launches and was not a scheduled trip to the region. A plan had been in place that if the North Koreans fired off a missile, he would go to the region immediately, because the administration believed that a launch appeared imminent.

The decision today to launch the missiles is most likely an effort to force the United States to change its stance, ABC News consultant and retired Gen. Jack Keane said.

"They're being used at this time certainly not to test them, they already know what their capabilities are," Keane said. "This is all part of the negotiations that they're trying to leverage here with the United States, and also to demonstrate, you know, once again, that they're a regional power."

However, other analysts said that if North Korea was trying to send a message, the message that came across might not be the one that was intended.

"To have it blow up shortly after it took off and while it was still the first stage is much more an indication of North Korean incompetence, than that North Korea's a threat," ABC News security consultant Anthony Cordesman said.

All the launches were detected and tracked by NORAD -- the North American Aerospace Defense Command -- sources told ABC News. No actions were taken by the U.S. military in response to the launches, sources said.

The first launch occurred around 2:30 p.m. ET, and the second came at around 3 p.m. The launch of the long-range missile came an hour later.

The United States had been watching the launch pad for nearly a month, and Bush administration officials have issued stern warnings to the North Koreans not to test fire the missile.

Bush said last month that a launch of the Taepodong-2 would be "unacceptable," and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "It would be a very serious matter and indeed a provocative act."

ABC News' Martha Raddatz, Luis Martinez, Jon Garcia and Kirit Radia contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events