South Korean leader says no to military action against North's launch
South Korean President Lee Myung Bak spoke out against taking military action against North Korea's announced rocket launch in an interview published Monday.
All countries except for China and Russia have spoken out against the launch North Korea has slated between April 4 and 8, Lee told Britain's Financial Times newspaper, reported dpa.
North Korea has said the launch is for a communications satellite, but South Korea, Japan and the United States said they believe it is cover for the test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Lee said Japan especially had cause for concern because of the possibility that the rocket would fly over its territory and rocket parts could fall within its borders.
North Korea launched a Taepodong-1 missile in August 1998, part of which crossed over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. The launch accelerated Japanese moves to build a missile shield, and ahead of April's planned launch, the government in Tokyo ordered its military to destroy any missile fragments that might fall into its territory
"What I do oppose is to militarily respond to these kind of actions because it is also not in their [North Korea's] interest to test-fire anything," Lee told the newspaper.
In the short term, Lee was quoted as saying, North Korea could profit from the launch in terms of conditions it might set in return for returning to the negotiating table.
"But in the long term, it won't be in their interest," he said.
Lee particularly criticized the launch in terms of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.
"The truth of the matter is North Korea does have a desire to develop nuclear weapons, so this does precisely make it a very serious concern for them to acquire the technology to deliver nuclear weapons," he told the Financial Times.
Meanwhile, in Washington, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said his country has no definitive plans for military intervention if North Korea launches a long-range missile but would take steps if it were headed to US territory.
Gates, who made the remarks Sunday on a Fox News talk show, said if an "aberrant missile" were headed for Hawaii, "we might consider" action, but I don't think we have any plans to do anything like that at this point."
"If this is Kim Jong-il's welcoming present to a new president, launching a missile like this and threatening to have a nuclear test, I think it says a lot about the imperviousness of this regime in North Korea to any kind of diplomatic overtures," Gates said.
Over the past week, a US official confirmed that North Korea was loading a Taepodong missile onto a launch pad on its east coast. It is believed to be a Taepodong-2, which, if perfected, could theoretically reach the US state of Alaska and carry a nuclear warhead.
Gates said he did not think it would be able to reach the US West Coast or Alaska, but he called North Korea's launch plans "very troubling."
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said a launch would be regarded a "provocative act" and warned Pyongyang that there would be consequences if it goes ahead with the planned launch.
North Korea warned Wednesday that it would stop participating in the six-nation talks on ending its nuclear programme if it is subjected to more sanctions over a launch.