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Concerns Mount over North Korea’s Ballistic Missile Testing

North Korea announced preparations to test a long-range ballistic missile, followed by reports that the United States readied its ground-based interceptor missile-defense system. The moves have sparked a debate about how the United States should respond to a missile threat.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    In 1998, North Korea shocked the world by testing a long-range ballistic missile. It soared over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.

    The following year, the government of Kim Jong Il agreed to a missile testing moratorium. But now, U.S. spy satellites have observed intensive pre-launch activity at a missile base on North Korea's east coast.

    The intelligence has sparked concern that North Korea is preparing to test a longer-range Taepodong II missile. When fully developed, it could strike the continental United States with nuclear warheads.

    On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned North Korea not to go ahead.

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: It would be a very serious matter and, indeed, a provocative act should North Korea decide to launch that missile. We will, obviously, consult on next steps, but I can assure everyone that it would be taken with utmost seriousness.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The threat of a North Korean missile test was a top issue in Austria yesterday, when President Bush met European Union leaders.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: It should make people nervous when non-transparent regimes that have announced that they've got nuclear warheads fire missiles.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    In New York yesterday, a North Korean diplomat at the United Nations suggested the issue could be resolved through direct talks with the United States.

    But Washington's U.N. ambassador rejected that idea. The Bush administration is insisting that North Korea return to the six-party talks on its nuclear program, which Pyongyang boycotted last September.

    The U.S. reportedly has activated some sea- and land-based elements of its fledgling missile defense system. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked today if the U.S. would use it.

  • JOURNALIST:

    Under what circumstances would the United States use its missile defense system to try to shoot down a North Korean missile launch?

    DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. Secretary of Defense: At the president's direction. And the president would make a decision with respect to the nature of launch, whether it was threatening to the territory of the United States or not, and the likely threat that it would pose.

  • JOURNALIST:

    And just to follow up, what's your level of concern about the potential of this launch?

  • DONALD RUMSFELD:

    Well, it's clear that all of the intelligence suggests they've been making preparations for a launch of a missile from the area of Taepodong for some days now. There's a lot we know and a lot we don't know.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Today, former Defense Secretary William Perry, who negotiated the North Korea missile-testing moratorium in 1999, offered a provocative alternative.

    In a Washington Post op-ed piece, co-authored with former Assistant Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, he suggested a pre-emptive strike, stating, "If North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched."

    Elsewhere, in South Korea, where officials have downplayed the threat of a missile launch, 1,000 demonstrators staged a rally denouncing Pyongyang's apparent plans to test.

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