North Korea Flexes Missile Muscles

North Korea test-fired several short-range missiles.


SEOUL, South Korea, March 28, 2008 — -- The White House has condemned North Korea's announcement that it test-fired several short-range missiles today.

"This kind of activity is not constructive," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

Johndroe added that North Korea should instead be focused on delivering complete documentation of all its nuclear weapons activities.

North Korean analysts say today's test was an angry response to U.S. and South Korea's tougher stance toward Pyongyang.

South Korea dismissed the test in a statement released by the presidential office stating, "It appears to be a usual military exercise … and we are watching closely."

Earlier, in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency, the North's Foreign Ministry turned blame on the United States saying, "We have treated the negotiations in a sincere manner but the more negotiations the more we are disappointed by the attitude of the Bush administration."

The North Korean statement did not address the compliance issue directly.

"If the U.S. continues to insist [about] what does not exist, and delays the settlement of the nuclear issue, it would have a grave impact on the disablement of nuclear facilities."

Pyongyang has denied it ever had a uranium enrichment program, whereas Washington has been suspecting the country of not only developing but proliferating the technology to Syria.

In a six-nation deal, North Korea agreed to disable its nuclear atomic plants in Yongbyon and declare all its nuclear programs by the end of last year, in exchange for economic aid and diplomatic benefits.

While North Korea insists it submitted a declaration in November, Washington accuses Pyongyang of not delivering a complete and correct declaration.

Analysts in Seoul say the provocative test-firing of missiles is North Korea's typical method of sending a warning message.

"As South Korea and the United States embrace for a stronger alliance ahead of the April summit, North Korea chose the missiles card to send a dual message to both," said Ryoo Kihl-Jae, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University.

In a joint statement Wednesday, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that major powers are losing patience and time is running out, urging North Korea to submit a complete declaration.

The timetables of politics in the United States and South Korea have raised concerns over the feasibility of carrying out the agreement.

President Bush's term ends in January 2009 and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's administration is expected to take a tougher stance on its communist neighbor, in contrast to a decade of two liberal administrations that provided billions of dollars in economic aid and encouraged inter-Korean cooperation.

In response to what it says is a sharp turn in Seoul's policy, the North expelled South Korean officials Thursday from the Kaesong Industrial Park, a joint factory site just above the demilitarized zone. The project has been the model of North-South economic cooperation, utilizing North's cheap labor and South Korean investment.

Just hours after the expulsion Lee's government voted in favor of renewing the mandate of the U.N. Human Rights Council's investigator for North Korea. South Korea's past liberal governments had abstained from voting on issues of Pyongyang's human rights records.

"If they are pushed to a corner, North Korea might come out headstrong," said Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University. "But the situation will probably stay contained," at least from the South Korean side because of the upcoming U.S.-South Korean summit in Washington and the national parliamentary elections scheduled next month.

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