SEOUL, South Korea – Japan warned Sunday it would consider "all options," including severe sanctions, in responding to a possible missile test by North Korea.
Tensions have risen in the region over alleged actions by the North that analysts say would enable the communist nation to launch a missile capable of reaching Japan, and possibly even parts of the United States.
However, Pyongyang has given no hint whether it will fire a long-range missile as widely feared, Jane Coombs, New Zealand's ambassador to both Koreas, said Saturday after meeting with top North Korean officials.
"They did not confirm that such a test was imminent ... nor did they deny that such a test was not imminent," Coombs said in Beijing after her four-day trip to Pyongyang, where she presented her credentials for her new post as ambassador to North Korea.
Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Sunday that Tokyo would consider sanctions, including halting oil and food shipments to the impoverished North, if it launches a long-range missile.
"All options are on the table," Aso said on public broadcaster NHK.
Intelligence reports say fuel tanks have been seen around a missile at the North's launch site on its northeastern coast, but officials say it's difficult to determine from satellite photos if the rocket is being fueled.
In Washington, the Pentagon's missile defense chief, Gen. Henry A. Obering III, said he has little doubt that U.S. interceptor rockets would hit and destroy a North Korean missile on a flight path toward U.S. territory if President George W. Bush gave the order to do so.
The North's moves have drawn widespread international concern. Even its main allies, China and Russia, have issued warnings.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who hopes to visit Beijing in the next week days for talks on the missile concern, said China has an important role to play in resolving the crisis.
"I will ask China to actively persuade North Korea ... just like it has played a constructive role in six-party talks" on the North's nuclear program, Ban said Saturday after returning from a trip to Europe, according to the South's Yonhap news agency.
China, a key provider of aid to the impoverished North, is believed to be the only country that has considerable leverage over Pyongyang.
In New York, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said the U.S. approached the North Koreans last weekend "and told them that we thought the idea of a launch was a very bad idea."
North Korea has said it is willing to talk to the United States about its missile concerns, repeating its long-held desire for direct meetings with the Americans. Washington, however, has refused, and insists it will only meet the North amid six-nation talks aimed at ridding Pyongyang of its nuclear weapons program.
The nuclear disarmament talks — which also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea — have been deadlocked since November.
The North shocked the world in 1998 by firing a missile that flew over northern Japan and into the Pacific. It has been under a self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile tests since 1999, but has since test-fired many short-range missiles.