Japan wants answers from North

Missile test launch question on weekend talks agenda

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Japan will demand a clear explanation from North Korea this weekend on whether it is preparing to test-fire a ballistic missile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Friday.

The two countries are set to hold working-level talks on the abduction issue beginning Saturday in Beijing; the missile issue will probably be raised at this venue.

Hosoda said the North’s activity appears to be part of an exercise to move troops near a missile installation — not preparation for an actual test launch. The top government spokesman did not divulge why Tokyo believes this.

A clear explanation from North Korea is necessary, Hosoda said, given the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration signed in 2002, in which Pyongyang promised to maintain its moratorium on missile tests beyond 2003.

“Given the missile moratorium under the Pyongyang Declaration, (this apparent missile program activity) is not a pleasant thing for our country,” Hosoda said. “We have to ask (North Korea) to explain its real intention.”

Although Hosoda believes the bilateral pact is still intact, Shoichi Nakagawa, minister of economy, trade and industry, regards the intensified activity around the missile base as a threat to Japan and a violation of the declaration.

“I have heard that the situation is not urgent, but it is seen as a threat and is obviously violating the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration,” Nakagawa separately told a news conference.

Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba, commenting on how Tokyo would respond if it perceived itself to be the target of a missile attack, told reporters, “It is the government’s policy to announce swiftly and accurately if we judge a situation would impact our country’s peace and security.

“There is also the question of how we would deal with such a threat promptly and try to minimize any damage if such a situation occurs despite every effort to prevent it.”

Japanese and U.S. reconnaissance information recently indicated North Korea may be preparing to test-fire either a Nodong or a Taepodong ballistic missile or conduct a missile engine combustion test, Japanese government sources said Thursday.

The data, mainly gathered from radio and U.S. reconnaissance satellites around the middle of last week, have led Japan to set up an ad hoc office at the Prime Minister’s office and send aircraft, an Aegis-equipped destroyer and other vessels to the Sea of Japan to gather more intelligence.

Information from Kyodo added