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Jul 4th, 2009

North Korea Marks Fourth of July with Missile Barrage


Defiant North Korea launches seven missiles (MSNBC TV, July 4, 2009) — South Korean officials are reporting that North Korea has launched seven ballistic missiles while defying the international community and sending an apparent message to the U.S. on Independence Day. NBC’s Mike Viqueira reports. (01:21)

July 4, 2009

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea launched seven ballistic missiles Saturday into waters off its east coast in a show of military firepower that defied U.N. resolutions and drew global expressions of condemnation and concern.

The salvo, confirmed by the South Korean government, also appeared to be a slap at the United States as Washington moves to enforce U.N. as well as its own sanctions against the isolated regime for its May 25 nuclear test.

The launches came on July 4, which is U.S. Independence Day. The display was similar to one that took place three years ago, also while Americans celebrated the Fourth of July during another period of tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

The number of missiles was the same, though in 2006 North Korea also launched a long-range rocket that broke apart and fell into the ocean less than a minute after liftoff.

South Korea said Saturday’s missiles likely flew more than 250 miles, apparently landing in waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan. …

In Washington, the White House had no immediate comment. But two senior officials in President Barack Obama’s administration, speaking in advance of the launches, said any reaction was likely to be muted to avoid giving attention to Pyongyang or antagonize it. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

North Korea has engaged in a series of acts this year widely seen as provocative. It fired a long-range rocket it said was a satellite in early April, and in late May it carried out its second underground nuclear test following the first in late 2006.

The country has also stoked tensions with rival South Korea and last month threatened “thousand-fold” military retaliation against the U.S. and its allies if provoked. …

Political transition?

The secretive communist country is believed to be undergoing a political transition in which 67-year-old leader Kim Jong Il appears to be laying the groundwork to transfer power to one of his sons. Kim himself took over from his late father, the country’s founder. …

North Korea’s state news agency did not mention the launches, so it was hard to grasp Pyongyang’s true intentions. Officials and analysts, however, said they showed the country remains happy to stand up to the international community and appears unwilling to give in to efforts to punish it.

“I think it’s a demonstration of their defiance and rejection of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, for one thing, and to demonstrate their military power capabilities to any potential adversaries” as well as potential customers for its weapons, said Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank.

Pinkston also said that there was “certainly a political aspect connected” to the launches and that July 4 was perhaps a “symbolic date,” suggesting the timing was not a coincidence.

‘A message to the U.S.’

Resolution 1874, which was approved last month and which condemned 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. …

Analysts have said 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.

Obama’s administration has offered dialogue, but it says North Korea must return to stalled international talks on its denuclearization and stop engaging in what Washington sees as provocative behavior threatening allies South Korea and Japan.

Paik Hak-soon, an expert on North Korea at the Sejong Institute, a think tank near Seoul, rejected the idea that the North chose July 4 to confront or annoy the U.S. on its national day.

He said the launches were more likely a warning to the international community against enforcing U.N. sanctions, which call for searches of North Korean ships suspected of carrying banned items, such as nuclear or missile parts.

He said North Korea will continue to carry out more missile and nuclear tests in the future, as long as relations with the U.S. and South Korea remain tense. …


Related report on this site

Kim Jong-Il Threat Assessment (May 31, 2009)

Image: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il

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