North Korean missile development continues |

North Korean missile development continues

WASHINGTON (AP) – North Korea is going ahead with development of its long-range missile, posing a threat to security in Asia and to America’s friends, military forces and interests, the State Department said Tuesday.

Last week, according to a senior Bush administration official, North Korea conducted an engine test of the Taepodong-1 missile. That cast doubt on whether the communist government is applying restraint to the program.

North Korea promised in September 1999 to suspend flight tests of the long-range missile, and the United States responded by lifting some economic sanctions that had been imposed on the country.

Narrowly, North Korea has kept to the bargain by not launching any missiles, said the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday on condition he would not be identified.

But the program can be advanced considerably without flight tests, and it is clear that North Korea is going ahead with development of the missile, he said.

Taepodong-1 was flight-tested in August 1998. Concern over North Korea’s program was a reason cited by the Bush administration in justifying the need to build a defense for the United States against long-range missiles.

”A flight test, of course, would be prohibited by the moratorium. It would be a very serious matter and contrary to the understandings between the two sides,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

North Korea has warned it would resume flight tests if the administration proceeded with a missile shield.

According to The Washington Times, effects of the engine test – a large burn area – were photographed by U.S. military reconnaissance aircraft.

The newspaper said Tuesday the engine test could be related to development of a longer-range missile, the Taepodong-2, which would be able to hit Alaska and Hawaii with a nuclear, chemical or biological warhead.

After months of reconsideration, the Bush administration in June resumed talks with North Korea, at a low level. One of the aims is to determine whether its leader, Kim Jong Il, is interested in reconciliation with the United States.

The Clinton administration avidly pursued Pyongyang, providing food to help offset droughts and arranging to provide North Korea with new sources of civilian power in exchange for freezing its nuclear weapons program.

No further talks have been set since an opening exchange three weeks ago in New York. If the dialogue picks up speed, the United States will try to turn discussions to reducing North Koreas huge war-making capability, almost 50 years after the Korean War ended.

Boucher on Tuesday said he could not say whether North Korea had tested the engine. ”Whether or not such an event occurred would be an intelligence matter, and I can’t talk about intelligence matters,” he said.

But, Boucher said, the Bush administration believes North Korea’s missile activities continue to pose a threat to regional security and stability and to U.S. friends, forces and interests.

”We expect North Korea to abide by its moratorium on the launch of long-range missiles. We will continue to take steps to address North Korea’s overall missile efforts and to work closely with other countries in doing so,” Boucher said.

Gen. Thomas Schwartz, commanding general of the combined U.S.-South Korean Forces, told the Senate Armed Services Committee this spring that after a summit with South Korea in June 2000 the training cycle for the North Korean People’s Army ”was the most extensive ever recorded.”

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