North Korea Close To Fielding A New Short-Range Missile, Officials Say

Friday, July 6th 2007, 4:06 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ North Korea is about to field an advanced short-range missile that has been tested successfully and will pose a new threat to South Korea, a departing Pentagon official said Friday.

Richard Lawless, at a final news conference after serving nearly five years as the Pentagon's top Asia policy official, said the new missile is more mobile and more accurate than the Scud missiles that already are targeting South Korea. Another concern is that the new missiles could be sold globally, he said.

Lawless also expressed deep concern that China has failed to take up a Bush administration offer made in 2005 to begin a high-level dialogue on China's strategic nuclear force, which is growing more capable.

``What we've done is said to the Chinese, `Look, we've got a pretty good idea what you're doing and where you're taking your strategic nuclear forces over the next three to four years. This is a huge commitment of resources on your part. It will dramatically change the situation between the two countries. We need to start talking about this changed situation now.' ... To date, that has met with pretty much silence.''

Lawless also was critical of China for not reciprocating U.S. offers to allow official visitors to view significant military facilities. He cited the example of China's top naval officer being given ``unprecedented access to everything that he asked for'' during a visit to the United States this year.

``Nowhere near that level of reciprocity was being discussed or offered'' by the Chinese in the planning for a visit by Adm. Michael Mullen, the top U.S. Navy officer. Mullen ended up not making the trip and has since been nominated by President Bush to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

``So I guess the key word here is disappointment,'' Lawless said.

Much of the public attention on North Korea in recent years has been directed at an international effort to get the communist government to abandon its nuclear weapons program. On Friday, North Korea strongly suggested that it is willing to suspend operations at its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor as soon as it receives an initial shipment of energy aid promised as a reward for closing the facility.

Lawless said that if the North Koreans follow through on time and as promised, ``that will be an indicator to the United States government that we have somebody that we can deal with.'' Even then, North Korea will need to address international concerns about its development of new missiles, he added.

He cited specifically North Korea's test-firing of three short-range missiles last week; Lawless said the missiles have a range of 120 to 140 kilometers, or about 75 to 85 miles, and were tested successfully.

The missile is designated the KN-02, or Toksa, and is a derivative of the SS-21 missile of the former Soviet Union.

``As this system, this particular system, approaches operational status and is deployed in large numbers, you have for the first time in the North Korean inventory'' a highly accurate missile ``whose only purpose, given its range, is to strike the Republic of Korea,'' Lawless said, using South Korea's official name.

The missiles are designed to carry non-nuclear warheads, although Gen. B.B. Bell, the top U.S. commander in South Korea, said on Monday that North Korea's continued development of ballistic missiles is a concern because of the possibility of them being coupled with the North's ``demonstrated nuclear ability.''

Lawless said U.S. officials are discussing the issue of the new short-range missiles with the Seoul government.

``We have a problem with this new system because it's much more accurate and it's much more survivable'' than Scud missiles, Lawless said.