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North Korea launched missiles
According to CNN, North Korea test-launched a Taepodong-2 missile early Wednesday along with several short-range rockets, but the long-range missile apparently failed, U.S. officials said.
The White House said there was no immediate threat to the United States, but called the North Korean tests "a provocation."
U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said there were five missile launches in all. One was the Taepodong-2 missile, and the other four were short-range.
A short time after Hadley spoke, North Korea launched a sixth missile, U.S. military sources said.
A senior official confirmed the first three launches were at 2:33 p.m. ET Tuesday (3:33 a.m. Wednesday in North Korea), 3:04 p.m. ET and 4.:01 p.m. ET. The official said the third launch, of the long-range rocket, failed after 42 seconds.
North Korea's preparations for a long-range missile test have been closely monitored for weeks. A senior State Department official told CNN the Taepodong-2, which some U.S. analysts fear could hit the western United States, appears to have failed in flight.
Two smaller North Korean missiles were fired from a different site shortly before the larger missile was tested, U.S. intelligence and State Department officials said.
U.S. military sources said those two missiles landed in the Sea of Japan, one closer to Russia and the other closer to Japan.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said that after President George W. Bush was informed of the tests, he spoke to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Hadley.
Hadley described the tests as "provocative behavior."
"We can now examine what the launches tell us about the intentions of North Korea," he said.
Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state, was to travel to North Asia on Wednesday to consult with countries there on the latest series of tests, Snow said.
In Tokyo Wednesday, a government spokesman said Japan will consider sanctions against North Korea over the missile launches, Kyodo news agency reported.
In Seoul, Yonhap news agency said the South Korean government had called a ministerial meeting early Wednesday morning in reaction to the tests.
In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said China was awaiting further information before responding.
Analysts said the tests appeared to have been intended to draw international attention back to North Korea -- and to the stalled talks aimed at convincing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea is believed to have the capability to produce several nuclear weapons but has never tested one.
"They are trying to send quite a signal not only to the United States but to the rest of the world that they should be taken quite seriously," said Wendy Sherman, a former State Department official who held talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during the Clinton administration.
At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said he was "urgently consulting" with other members of the 15-nation Security Council.
Washington and North Korea's Asian neighbors -- South Korea, China, Russia and Japan -- have been trying to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program since 2002, but those talks have stalled in recent months.
Jim Walsh, a national security analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the intent of the test appeared to be aimed at drawing attention back to North Korean demands in the six-party talks. But Walsh said the tests "do not represent an immediate military threat to the United States."
"It's very difficult technology. They very clearly have not mastered it," he said. "Most estimates are they will not master it for another 10 years."
The United States, Japan and other countries have warned North Korea against a long-range missile test. The North Koreans fired a Taepodong-1 missile over Japan in 1998, but declared a moratorium on future tests in 1999.
"One would expect from any administration for there to be sanctions, for there to be a tough response to this," Sherman said.
The White House has dismissed that threat as "hypothetical." (Full story)
But the U.S. Northern Command increased security measures at its Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a few weeks ago, a military official confirmed Tuesday.
The base is the seat of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and some of its command-and-control operations might be used if the United States attempted to use its ballistic missile interceptors to shoot down a Taepodong-2 test.
But a Pentagon official said the missile appears to have failed on its own, without any American effort to knock it down.
In other planning measures instituted in the past several days, Northern Command, along with the Federal Aviation Administration, has put standby commercial flight restrictions into place over Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and Fort Greely, Alaska, where U.S. interceptor missiles are based.
President Bush warned last week that the isolated Stalinist state would face even further isolation if it launched the Taepodong-2, which U.S. analysts fear is capable of reaching the western United States. (Full story)
"The North Koreans have made agreements with us in the past, and we expect them to keep their agreements," Bush said last month at the end of a European Union summit.
"It should make people nervous when nontransparent regimes, that have announced that they've got nuclear warheads, fire missiles," Bush said. "This is not the way you conduct business in the world. This is not the way that peaceful nations conduct their affairs."
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