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Japan says 'ready to shoot down N. Korean long-range missile'

RIA Novosti

13/03/2009 12:55 TOKYO, March 13 (RIA Novosti) - Japan is ready to intercept a North Korean rocket if it appears to threaten the country's security, Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said on Friday.

Pyongyang has notified global agencies of its plans to launch a communications satellite on April 4-8, indicating that the first stage of the carrier rocket would fall into the Sea of Japan and the second stage would splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

"If the rocket launch threatens to harm our country in any way, we will take decisive countermeasures," Nakasone said, adding that Japan would certainly "take up the issue at the UN Security Council."

The communist state announced plans last month to launch a satellite using a three-stage rocket from the newly constructed Musudan-ri launch pad on the country's northeast coast.

Seoul and Washington believe the real purpose of a satellite launch would be to test a long-range Taepodong-2 missile, which is thought to have a range of 6,700 kilometers (4,100 miles) and could possibly reach the U.S. states of Alaska and Hawaii, as well as South Korea and Japan.

Pyongyang first tested a long-range missile in 1998, when it launched a Taepodong-1 over northern Japan and claimed that it carried a domestically-developed satellite.

In 2002, Pyongyang and Tokyo agreed to a moratorium on missile tests, but the secretive regime has continued research on ballistic missile technology.

In 2005 North Korea announced that it had nuclear weapons and in July 2006 test-launched a Taepodong-2 long-range missile and later staged an underground test of a nuclear device.

The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1718 on October 14, 2006, which forbids North Korea from conducting further nuclear tests or launches of ballistic missiles.

"Even if it is a satellite launch, as North Korea insists, it will be a violation of a UN Security Council resolution. The United States and Britain share our opinion [on this issue]," Nakasone said.

Some analysts believe, though, the impoverished country is not capable of developing a domestic space program, and that the planned rocket launch is simply an attempt to draw the attention of U.S. President Barack Obama's new administration to the issue of the stalled six-party talks on North Korea's controversial nuclear program.

The six-nation talks, involving North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan, China and the United States, were launched in 2003 after Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

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