Japan warns pilots of possible hazards from intercepting North Korean missile

JIJI, Kyodo

Japan on Friday issued an alert to inform pilots of potential hazards in airspace covered by surface-to-air missile systems being deployed to intercept a possible North Korean ballistic missile.

The transport ministry issued the notice to airmen (NOTAM) at the request of the Defense Ministry, sources said. The period covered by the notice is between 6:30 a.m. Monday and 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 25.

In response to an order from the defense minister, Japan has deployed Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air missile systems at three locations in the Tokyo area.

PAC-3 units have also been deployed at two locations in Okinawa, over which the long-range missile is forecast to fly in what North Korea claims will be an operation to launch a satellite. Two more locations in Okinawa will also have PAC-3 systems ready.

The ministry also confirmed that the communist country had issued a NOTAM at 4:11 p.m. Friday to inform pilots of the three areas where objects are expected to fall as a result of the operation.

Also Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke on the telephone about how to respond to the North Korea’s recent nuclear test and the planned rocket launch, amid differences between Washington and Beijing over the issue at the U.N. Security Council.

The White House said Obama and Xi underscored the importance of “a strong and united international response” to North Korean provocations, including an “impactful” resolution.

The leaders also agreed that Pyongyang’s planned ballistic missile test would represent “another provocative and destabilizing action,” according to the White House.

According to China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, Obama told Xi that the United States hopes the international community will propel the Security Council to adopt “measures to cope with the situation effectively” and that the U.S. will cooperate with China on the issue.

“Xi stressed that the current situation on the Korean Peninsula is complicated and sensitive,” Xinhua said. China is a major benefactor of North Korea.

Xi told Obama that China is committed to the goal of denuclearization on the peninsula and insists on a solution through dialogue and consultation, according to Xinhua.

North Korea notified U.N. agencies earlier in the week of its plan to launch an Earth observation satellite between Feb. 8 and 25 as part of its national space development program, following its fourth nuclear test Jan. 6, which has prompted the U.N. council to consider a punitive response.

The United States and many other countries suspect the planned launch is a cover for testing a long-range ballistic missile in violation of U.N. resolutions banning North Korea from using such technology.

The United States proposed at the Security Council banning oil exports to North Korea and imports of minerals from it as part of a package of new economic sanctions, which China is opposed to.

Recent satellite imagery has shown tanker trucks near a rocket launchpad in the North, likely indicating the filling of fuel tanks, a U.S. institute monitoring the site said Friday.

The U.S.-Korea Institute of Johns Hopkins University said on its 38 North website there was no activity indicating an imminent launch and it was unknown if a rocket had already been put on the launchpad of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. The institute in Washington released photos dated Feb. 4.

The institute said the imagery, taken Wednesday and Thursday, indicates the trucks, which had arrived at an area containing fuel bunkers at the launch station in Dongchang-ri in the northwest, are more likely to be there to fill tanks within the bunkers than to inject fuel into a space launch vehicle itself.

“In the past, such activity has occurred one to two weeks prior to a launch event and would be consistent with North Korea’s announced launch window,” the institute said.

The institute said, however, that the imagery suggests there have been no significant changes at the launch control building at the site. “Activity at this facility should increase as the launch date grows closer,” it said.