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All Headlines 11:23 July 09, 2009

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

North Korea Fires Seven Missiles in Show of Defiance

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea test-launched seven ballistic missiles off its eastern coast July 4 in the latest show of defiance against international pressure to suspend its nuclear and missile programs. South Korea's military was placed on high alert after the North's missile launch, while regional powers as well as the United Nations Security Council condemned the North's continued provocations.

The missiles, which the North is prohibited from firing under U.N. resolutions, were launched into the East Sea and were apparently timed to coincide with the U.S. Independence Day holiday on July 4. Pyongyang's test-firing also appeared to be a rejections of Washington's moves to enforce U.N. and domestic sanctions against the North for its May 25 nuclear test.

The firing of the seventh missile, which appears to have been a Scud missile, took place on the country's east coast around 5:40 p.m., the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said. "It appears to be similar to the previous six missiles fired into the East Sea earlier in the day," a JCS official said.

North Korea fired two missiles toward the East Sea from the Gitdaeryong base near Wonsan, Kangwon Province, between 8:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., according to the JCS. It fired another one into the East Sea around 10:45 a.m., and three more at around noon, 2:50 p.m. and at 4:10 p.m., respectively. "All the missiles are estimated to have a range of 400-500km," another JCS official said.

South Korean officials did not rule out the possibility that what the North fired might have actually been Rodong missiles -- modifications of Scuds -- saying their flight distances may have been shortened deliberately. Rodong-type missiles have an estimated range of 1,000-1,500km and are able to reach many parts of Japan. The North is believed to have up to 1,000 ballistic missiles -- including nearly 700 Scud missiles of various types and 320 Rodong missiles.

On July 2, the North fired a salvo of four KN-01 surface-to-ship missiles into the East Sea from the Sinsang-ni base in South Hamgyong Province, adding to tensions already running high after the North's launch of a long-range rocket in April and its second nuclear test the following month.

Officials here noted the timing of the latest missile launch, which came on the eve of U.S. Independence Day. "The missiles fired on July 2 were analyzed to be part of military drills, but today's missiles seem to have political purposes in that they were fired a day ahead of the U.S. Independence Day," a South Korean government official said.

North Korea test-fired a long-range Taepodong-2 missile, along with several short-and mid-range missiles, on U.S. Independence Day in 2006 and detonated another nuclear bomb this year on May 25 during the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, acts that North Korea watchers said were intended to draw more attention from Washington.

South Korea's foreign ministry lashed out at the reclusive neighbor's ballistic missile launch, calling it a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban the socialist nation from any activity related to a ballistic missile program. "It is a provocative act that clearly violates U.N. Security Council resolutions 1695, 1718, and 1874 that bar North Korea's every activity related to ballistic missiles," the ministry said in a statement.

South Korean and U.S. authorities said, however, there is no sign of an imminent launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from either its eastern Musudan-ri base or the new Tongchang-ri base on its west coast. In April, North Korea threatened to test-fire an ICBM in protest over the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of its long-range rocket launch, which it claimed to be aimed at sending a communications satellite into space.

Citing satellite photos, U.S. military officials said the North has not mounted an ICBM on a launch pad or injected fuel yet, a process that takes at least a week.

Japan also condemned the North's missile launch. It is "a serious act of provocation against the security of neighboring countries, including Japan," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said in a statement.

Britain and France issued similar statements condemning Pyongyang's missile firing. Russia and China, both close to North Korea, expressed concern over an "escalation of tension in the region," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement after a meeting in Moscow. In Washington, the White House had no immediate comment. The July 4th launches were seen as more provocative since the missiles could potentially reach most of South Korea, and possibly parts of Japan.

The North has also apparently improved the accuracy of its missiles, a military official said on July 5, with five out of the seven hitting the target area after traveling about 450km. "Our analysis showed North Korea has improved the accuracy of its missiles," the official said. "Three of the seven missiles fired had an unusually high velocity that makes us believe they could have been Rodong missiles that had their flight distance shortened," the official was quoted as saying.

U.N. Resolution 1874, approved last month to condemn the North's nuclear test, was the third to be passed by the U.N. Security Council against the country since 2006. All three ban North Korea from launching ballistic missiles. The North has about 600 Scuds, plus 200 Rodong-1 missiles which could reach Tokyo. North Korea's recent provocations have been attended by threats of a "thousand-fold" military retaliation against the U.S. and its allies if provoked.

Analysts speculate that North Korea's saber rattling is partially aimed at pressuring Washington to engage in direct negotiations. North Korea is believed to desire diplomatic relations and a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War. Paik Hak-soon, an expert on North Korea at the Sejong Institute, a think tank near Seoul, said North Korea will continue to carry out more missile and nuclear tests in the future, as long as relations with the United States and South Korea remain tense.

On July 6, the U.N. Security Council condemned North Korea's latest firing of seven ballistic missiles as a violation of U.N. resolutions as well as a threat to regional and international security. Uganda's U.N. Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda, who holds the 15-member council's rotating presidency, said the council members "condemned and expressed grave concern" at the missile launches, which violated U.N. resolutions and "pose a threat to regional and international security."

Council members reiterated that Pyongyang "must comply fully with its obligations and relevant resolutions" and appealed to "all parties to refrain from any action that would aggravate the security situation in the region." They also expressed their commitment to "a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution" and vowed "to continue to closely monitor the situation and act as appropriate in accordance to the U.N. Charter."

Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden on July 5 dismissed North Korea's series of missile launches, saying the communist regime was engaged in "attention seeking" as it faced increasing isolation, according to an AFP report. "Look, this has almost become predictable behavior," Biden told ABC television. "Some of it seems like almost attention-seeking behavior."

According to the news report, Biden said he did not want to give these tests undue attention, but rather focus on moving forward with the policy of further isolating Pyongyang. "I think our policy has been absolutely correct so far," the vice president stated. "We have succeeded in uniting the most important and critical countries ... on a common path of further isolating North Korea."

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