The United States does not expect North Korean to test an ICBM soon despite reports that Pyongyang is preparing a launch for early next month, CNN reported yesterday (see GSN, June 23).
A Japanese newspaper, citing U.S. and South Korean intelligence sources, last week reported that the Stalinist North is planning to send one of its long-range Taepodong 2 missiles in the direction of Hawaii sometime between July 4 and 8.
However, U.S. intelligence agencies have identified no "readily observable" preparations by the regime to carry out a long-range missile launch, one intelligence source told CNN.
A recent warning advising ships to stay out of a particular section of the Sea of Japan at various periods from yesterday to July 9 suggests the North only plans to test-launch short- and mid-range missiles for now, the U.S. official said.
Nevertheless, the Defense Department has bolstered its missile defenses around Hawaii.
"Previous long-range ballistic missile tests by the North have been failures," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said yesterday. "But they obviously are intent on developing on developing that capability, and so long as they are, we need to do responsible, prudent things. And in this case, [Defense Secretary Robert Gates] thinks the responsible, prudent thing is to deploy those assets."
Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense systems -- designed to intercept incoming missiles at their final phase of flight -- have been readied on Hawaii, bolstered by a powerful radar system. The Pentagon does not expect to field extra technology in the area, Morrell indicated.
"I think we're perfectly comfortable with the assets that are in place," he said. "This threat that is posed by North Korea is not a new one, so we have adjusted out assets that are normally in the area some time ago" (Benson/Levine, CNN, June 24).
The White House on Tuesday pledged to take all necessary measures to protect U.S. citizens from any danger posed by North Korea's missile tests, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
"The president and the Pentagon have done and are doing everything humanely possible to ensure the safety of all Americans should the North Koreans decide to test-fire another missile," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in an interview with the Fox News Channel.
"They did the same thing in 2006," Gibbs said, referring to an earlier Taepodong 2 missile test. "I think the North Koreans over the course of many, many years -- and bedeviling many administrations -- have continued to make irrational statements and take bellicose actions that further isolate itself from the world" (Hwang Doo-hyong, Yonhap News Agency, June 23).