Pentagon Makes National Missile Defense System Operational

Bill Gertz reports in the Washington Times that the Pentagon has switched its missile defense system from “test” to “operational” in response to reports that North Korea is planning to test a long-range missile, a move that violates North Korea’s ban on missile testing.

President Bush had telephoned more than a dozen heads of state regarding North Korea’s launch preparations, Mr. Snow said. He did not identify the leaders who were called by Mr. Bush.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the U.S. has made it clear to North Korea that the communist regime should abide by the missile-test ban it imposed in 1999 and reaffirmed in a pact with Japan in 2002.

“The United States has a limited missile defense system,” Mr. Whitman said. He declined to say if the system is operational or whether it would be used.

“U.S. Northern Command continues to monitor the situation, and we are prepared to defend the country in any way necessary,” said spokesman Michael Kucharek.

Any decision to shoot down a missile would be made at the highest command levels, which includes the president, secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Japan and South Korea are trying to avert a launch.

“Even now, we hope that they will not do this,” Mr. Koizumi said. “But if they ignore our views and launch a missile, then the Japanese government, consulting with the United States, would have to respond harshly.”

John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Bush administration is consulting with other Security Council members on how to respond to a Taepodong launch.

In Australia, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said North Korea’s ambassador had been summoned and told any missile launch would result in “serious consequences.”

U.S. intelligence officials said there are signs that the North Koreans recently began fueling the Taepodong with highly corrosive rocket fuel. Normally, when liquid fuel is loaded into missiles the missile must be fired within five to 10 days, or it must be de-fueled and the motors cleaned, a difficult and hazardous process.

Pyongyang has responded to US demands that it not launch the Taepodong-2 missile:

North Korea says it has full autonomy to conduct missile tests and outsiders do not have the right to criticize its plans, Kyodo News agency reported Tuesday.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry regards the issue of a long-range missile test launch as one “not bound by any statement such as the Pyongyang Declaration,” a deputy chief-level researcher at the ministry’s Asian Affairs Department told a group of Japanese reporters Tuesday.

The Japan Herald says North Korea appears to be still fueling the weapon:

“It is difficult to determine that fueling has been completed, judging from the number and size of the fuel cans that are seen on the site,” the National Intelligence Service (NIS) official told lawmakers at a secret briefing of the National Assembly intelligence committee, according to lawmaker Chung Hyung-Keun who attended the session.

Ruling party spokesman Woo said senior government officials remained deeply concerned about preparations for any launch, which has triggered jitters in Asia and drawn sharp warnings from Washington and Tokyo.

North Korea was believed to be readying the launch of a Taepodong-2 missile that can carry a 1,000-kilogram warhead up to to 6,700 kilometres (4,200 miles), far enough to hit targets in Alaska and possibly Hawaii.

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