Published July 05, 2006
WASHINGTON – North Korea tried to fire a long-range ballistic missile, but it failed in flight, two U.S. officials told FOX News on Tuesday. Five non-guided, medium-range Scud-style missiles were also fired, the Bush administration confirmed.
"We do consider it provocative behavior," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said.
Japanese public broadcasting channel NHK first reported the missile launches. All five missiles landed in the Sea of Japan, the first about 360 miles from mainland Japan, NHK said. Japan's Kyodo news agency said the missiles were believed to be mid-range Rodong missiles, and landed about 300 miles off the western coast of Japan's Hokkaido Island.
President Bush was briefed on the activity around 4:20 p.m. EDT, after the first missile was launched at 2:30 p.m. EDT. That was right around the same time that NASA successfully launched the Discovery Space Shuttle into orbit for a 13-day mission. Bush also spoke with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Hadley.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, told reporters, "The North Koreans have again clearly isolated themselves."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned to confer, starting tonight, with her counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea and Russia, over the missile firings, according to the State Department.
In Japan, government officials were spotted rushing into Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's compound, shortly after dawn local time.
"North Korea has gone ahead with the launch despite international protest," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said. "That is regrettable from the standpoint of Japan's security, the stability of international society, and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
He said Tokyo "sternly protested" the launches, and a task force had been set up to guide Japan's response. Abe added that they had not heard of any damage to Japanese territory.
South Korean government officials also called a ministerial meeting in reaction to North Korean missile launches, Yonhap news agency reported.
After the first launch, Japanese government officials were trying to determine whether either of the first two missiles could have been a Taepodong-2, a long-range ballistic missile that has been sitting on a launch pad for weeks. One U.S. government official told FOX News that if it were a Taepodong missile, it was "a real big dud."
"The launch appears not to be the launch that has been in the news. This appears to be a launch of a lesser variety of Scud missiles," a Pentagon official said before the third and failed long-range missile launch.
The two U.S. officials later told FOX News that the Taepodong-2 was the third rocket to go up. It failed 35 seconds after launch. A Defense Department official said the U.S. took no action because the missiles posed no threat to the United States or its interests.
Last month, the head of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, said he was "very confident" the United States could take out a North Korean missile aimed at the U.S.
The United States and North Korea have been butting heads recently over Pyongyang's threatening to launch a missile that could reach parts of the western U.S. North Korea is believed to have nuclear weapons and an intercontinental missile would give nuclear weapons a delivery system.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said the U.S. mission is "urgently consulting with members of the Security Council" on next steps, but no U.N. Security Council meeting had yet been scheduled for the evening. Bolton is personally manning the phones.
Amb. Chris Hill, an envoy to the six-party talks on North Korea, was also working the phones with regional partners, and was traveling to the region, either China, Japan or South Korea on Wednesday, White House spokesman Tony Snow said. The sixth partner in the talks is Russia.
Hadley had a previously scheduled meeting in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday with his South Korean counterpart.
Asked about the missiles, Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the United Nations in New York, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview: "We diplomats do not know what the military is doing."
North Korea failed to launch the long-range missile on Tuesday, the second time it has tried. In 1998, the Taepodong-1 missile also couldn't get far off the ground. Both events, however, are seen as provocative.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said on Monday that North Korea should try to avoid "any type of provocative activity" and return to negotiations on its nuclear weapons program.
"They have heard from just about everybody in the international community, including China, including Russia, that that would be not only extremely unwise, it would be opposed by all the countries in the world," Burns said in a taped interview with C-SPAN.
State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside added that if North Korea were to try to launch a missile, "the U.S. would respond appropriately, including by taking the necessary measures to protect ourselves."
Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said that the latest episode by North Korea "ought to indicate how much more money" needs to be invested in missile defense programs.
"Whether that missile worked this time or not, as long as they can play around with these things ... sooner or later they're going to get something" that can reach the United States, he said.
Added Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.: "Now we're faced with a situation where some lunatic in North Korea may well be developing a rocket that could hit the United States with a nuclear missile. ... So isn't it good to be prepared? Aren't we happy that Ronald Reagan didn't give in and we are now in the process of deploying a system that could protect us against this?"
In anticipation of North Korea's provocations, the North American Aerospace Defense Command placed its Colorado headquarters on a heightened state of alert a few weeks ago. An official at Northcom's Peterson Air Force base told FOX News the decision was not routine, but based on prudent planning.
The decision to raise the threat level to "bravo plus," one step higher than "alpha" or "low" threat level, comes as Northcom closely watches actions by North Korea.
"We are prepared to defend the homeland," one U.S. defense official said while refusing to discuss any specific threats.
A former North Korea coordinator for the United States, Amb. Wendy Sherman, told FOX News that Pyongyang probably waited until July 4 to try the launch because that date was "symbolic and had meaning."
"It doesn't surprise me that they picked our Independence Day. ... They would look for a time when it was difficult for the U.S. to respond," she said, adding that even if the launch failed, the display was effective because "they're getting their way in getting the world's attention that North Korea is a serious threat to the world."
FOX News' Bret Baier, Nick Simeone and Sharon Kehnemui Liss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.