Bush Speaks to Troops at Fort Bragg
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
Amid celebrations on this Fourth of July, the White House has responded to reports that North Korea fired several missiles, all of them landing in the Sea of Japan. Details are sketchy, but one of the missiles is reportedly the long range missile that's been spotted on a launch pad in North Korea for the past several weeks. That missile is thought to be capable of reaching part of the United States.
The White House confirms the launches, calling them a “provocation.” But the White House says there are no immediate threats to the United States. Nevertheless, NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, has been placed on heightened alert, slightly higher than a medium threat level, according to a spokesman.
A flurry of diplomatic activity is now underway and NPR's David Green joins us now from the White House. David, what do we know at this point?
DAVID GREENE reporting:
Well, what we've been told by the White House is there were at least five missiles fired by North Korea. There are reports now that it could be more than that, which shows you how fluid the situation is and we're going to be following it closely.
But the White House believed that all but one, at least at this point, were short to medium range missiles that didn't seem to concern officials all that much, because it's worth noting that North Korea has done missile testing before.
But one of these missiles, launched around 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time was believed to be a so-called Taepodong-2, a longer range missile. That's the one that there are fear about, that could reach the United States. It's the one that U.S officials have been concerned about. And the White House seemed relieved to report that the longer range missile failed within the first 40 seconds or so after launching, but it was a concern that the North Koreans actually did test one of these.
NORRIS: So the White House is calling this a provocation, but does it view this action as a direct threat? And how would they like Americans, who are just hearing about this for the first time, to interpret all this activity?
GREENE: Well, and that's really the tough balancing act that the White House seems to be doing, because they wanna be tough with North Korean, no doubt, and make clear that they view this as a major breach. But I think they're aware Americans are out enjoying their holiday. They might be getting bits and pieces of this news, all the talk of missiles.
And so officials wanted to be very reassuring as well and officials here told reporters that none of this appeared to be a direct threat to the U.S., which I think was a message to Americans who are getting this news.
NORRIS: Missiles fired by a country that claims to have nuclear capabilities. So, what's the president's next move?
GREENE: Well, the White House wants to do everything it can to not make this about the U.S. and North Korea. That's been their approach all along and that seems to be the strategy there. They're talking about now, they wanna consult with other members of the so-called Six Party Talks aimed at ending the nuclear threat to North Korea.
The White House makes clear there is not going to be any sort of unilateral response from the U.S. But there really was a lot of diplomatic activity. President Bush spoke with members of his national security team. The administration's envoy for North Korea, Christopher Hill, was preparing to head to the region as early as tomorrow. And U.S. officials were talking to people in other embassies across the nation's capital.
NORRIS: David, if I can reach back earlier in the day, before reports of this missile launch, you went down with the president to Fort Bragg, where he spoke to troops about Iraq. What was the message there?
GREENE: The message was one he has said many times before, that he's not going to cut and run in Iraq, that he's going to take nothing less than victory. That's what he told troops. He was coming back, then, to Washington, he even had some of his friends on Air Force One to celebrate his 60th birthday, which is later this week, and the White House said even with all this North Korean news, the party was going to go on.
NORRIS: David Greene at the White House. Thanks so much, David.
GREENE: My pleasure, Michele.