Japan OKs deployment of missile defenses
Saturday, March 28, 2009
TOKYO -- Japan took the rare step Friday of ordering battleships and missile interceptors to protect its northern coast in case a rocket launch by North Korea goes awry.
Still, Tokyo urged calm and said the likelihood of rocket debris falling on Japan was low.
North Korea says it plans to launch its Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite April 4-8 and has designated a zone near Japan's northern coast where debris is likely to fall.
Japan, South Korea and the United States suspect North Korea will use the launch to test the delivery technology for a long-range missile capable of striking Alaska. Amid heightened regional tensions, the communist nation has warned any attack on its satellite could be an act of war.
Russia said clearly for the first time Friday that it is urging North Korea not to conduct the launch.
"Everybody has the right to the peaceful use of space, and North Korea also has this right," Russian deputy foreign minister Alexei Borodavkin told reporters in Moscow. "But the atmosphere on the Korean peninsula is such that the launch of a rocket would be an additional factor of instability, increasing tension."
Tokyo has repeatedly urged Pyongyang to refrain from the launch. Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada on Friday ordered the deployment of missile interceptors to the area at risk, vowing to "eliminate anything that may cause us any damage."
Under the order, Japan's military will deploy two missile-equipped destroyers to the Sea of Japan and send batteries of Patriot missile interceptors to protect the northern coast.
Prime Minister Taro Aso said the deployment was to ensure security, but added there is little chance debris will fall on Japanese territory.
"By any chance, if any flying objects fall on our territory, we have to respond to ensure safety for our citizens," he said, according to Kyodo News Agency.
Chief Cabinet spokesman Takeo Kawamura urged people "to remain calm" and repeated that falling debris was "unlikely."
Nuclear envoys from Japan, South Korea and the U.S. were holding talks Friday at the State Department to coordinate a joint strategy.
U.S. intelligence officials say North Korea has mounted a rocket on a launch pad on its northeast coast. Citing an unidentified diplomatic official, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper said North Korea is now "technically" capable of a launch in three to four days.
South Korea and the U.S. also prepared military deployments.
Seoul is dispatching an Aegis-equipped destroyer to monitor the launch, said a military official in Seoul, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Two U.S. Aegis-equipped ships will also set out from South Korea in coming days, U.S. military spokesman Kim Yong-kyu said.
The U.S. and South Korea said Thursday a launch would be a major provocation with serious consequences, and Japan's parliament was expected to issue a resolution next week demanding the launch be scrapped.
Regional powers have said any launch is banned under a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution and would trigger sanctions.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said such a "provocative act" could jeopardize the stalled talks on supplying North Korea with aid and other concessions in exchange for dismantling its nuclear program.
Of the North's neighbors, Japan has reacted the most strongly because the satellite will fly over its airspace. North Korea sent a similar rocket over Japan in 1998, prompting Tokyo to build up its missile defenses.
Under Friday's order, the Japanese military may shoot down any missile fragments and debris heading toward Japanese territory.
The military will move some PAC-3 land-to-air missiles to Japan's northern coast and deploy a pair of destroyers carrying SM-3 sea-to-air missiles to nearby waters, the Defense Ministry said.
A set of the PAC-3 missiles will be brought into central Tokyo.
Japan and others are also threatening sanctions.
Japan imposed trade sanctions on Pyongyang in 2006 after it tested ballistic missiles in waters dividing the two countries and conducted an atomic test. Japan's current sanctions, which have been extended every six months, are set to expire April 13.