Japan Reacts to Planned N. Korea Missile Test

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Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi speaks to reporters during a nationally televised press conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo Monday, June 19, 2006. hide caption

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Japan's prime minister says Tokyo would respond harshly if North Korea tests a long-range missile. U.S. officials have said North Korea appears to have completed fuelling for a test of a long-range ballistic missile that could possibly reach Alaska. Steve Inskeep talks to reporter Lucy Craft in Tokyo about the situation.


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

North Korea is reported to be preparing to launch a long-range ballistic missile. It would be North Korea's first test launch in eight years. U.S. officials say the secretive communist country appears to have completed fueling its most advanced inter-continental ballistic missile. It's described as a missile possibly capable of reaching the United States.

The Bush administration is warning of an appropriate response if North Korea proceeds with this, and one of North Korea's close neighbors, Japan, says it would seek an immediate meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

We're going to go next to Tokyo, where reporter Lucy Craft is covering this story. And, Lucy, what would this test be like if it happened?

LUCY CRAFT reporting:

Well, as you mentioned earlier, we had this previous test back in August of 1998 where North Korea fired a two-stage Taepodong 1 missile - the missile they're talking about now is a Taepodong 2. And the last time it did land harmlessly in the sea, but it did cause a great deal of damage, in terms of rupturing this sense of security that Japan has had all these years, and it did cause a sea change in Japan's attitude towards its own defense.

INSKEEP: So how serious is the situation now, and let's take it from the Japanese perspective first?

CRAFT: The Japanese are extremely nervous about this. The six-party talks that were aimed at trying to get North Korea to disarm have basically been on hold since last fall. For the last 48 hours or so, we've had a parade of Japanese cabinet officials going on television saying that any move by North Korea to test fire a missile would be met with severe repercussions, non military, of course.

The latest announcement we had was by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at a press conference this afternoon, again, warning the North Koreans that there would be no benefit to them in pursuing this path that they seem to be taking.

INSKEEP: Any idea what the severe repercussions - non military - could be? Repercussions that the North Koreans would care about?

CRAFT: Your listeners may know that a long-standing grievance - in fact, more important to the Japanese people than the nuclear issue - has been the abduction of Japanese nationals. And the Japanese government has been talking for years about imposing economic penalties on the North Koreans, including freezing money transfers from Korean ethnic nationals living in Japan to Korea, which have been an important source of hard currency.

They've also talked about ending ferry service between North Korea and Japan, which has been a source of goods, as well as, perhaps, some illegal transactions, like sales of drugs and that sort of thing.

INSKEEP: Lucy Craft, one other question. Do U.S. allies in east Asia think that the United States is handling this situation in the proper way?

CRAFT: We haven't had a lot of comment, but, in general, there's been a great deal of opposition to the way the Bush administration has been handling the North Korean issue. Japanese leaders have been solidly behind the U.S., but the Japanese people haven't been. And South Korea has been harshly critical of the Bush administration's handling of North Korea from the beginning of the Bush administration, so I would have to say no.

INSKEEP: This is a feeling that the Bush administration has been too tough on this country? Is that what you're saying?

CRAFT: That their approach has been counter-productive. South Korea, which is much closer - they don't need missiles to get to the South Koreans - has always felt it was more constructive to pursue a more diplomatic approach and that saber-rattling is not constructive.

INSKEEP: The last missile test that you mentioned, in 1998...


INSKEEP: ...I believe, passed over Japanese territory on its way out to the Pacific. Would Japan consider a similar test an act of war?

CRAFT: An act of war in the sense that the Japanese would respond in kind - if that's your question, no. Japan has a very strong pacifist constitution. It has relied on the U.S. to mount an offensive capability. It has no offensive capability of its own. That being said, this move to the right in Japan in recent years has been prompted, in no small part, by this testing in 1998, which really shook the Japanese sense of security to its core.

INSKEEP: Lucy Craft is a reporter in Tokyo. Thanks very much.

CRAFT: Thank you.

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