SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea appeared close Sunday to test-firing a long-range missile capable of reaching the United States, prompting the White House to warn of an appropriate response and Japan to threaten a “fierce” protest to the United Nations.
North Korea was silent on the issue but vowed to bolster its “military deterrent” in a burst of fiery rhetoric carried by its state news agency.
A test launch of what is believed to be a Taepodong-2 missile would inflame a region already tense over the North’s continuing nuclear weapons program.
“There are signs” of an imminent missile launch, said Jung Tae-ho, a spokesman at the South Korean president’s office. He added that security officials were “closely watching the situation.”
The North last conducted such a launch in August 1998. Pyong-yang imposed a moratorium on testing long-range missiles in 1999.
The White House spokesman said Sunday the United States expected the North to abide by that freeze.
“We do not want to have a missile test out of North Korea,” Tony Snow told “Fox News Sunday.” “The North Koreans themselves decided in 1999 that they would place a moratorium on this kind of testing, and we expect them to maintain the moratorium.”
President Bush, national security adviser Stephen Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have been in contact with more than a dozen countries and communicated with North Korea through the U.N. representative, Snow said.
“If they go ahead with a test, then we will have to respond properly and appropriately at the time,” Snow told CNN’s “Late Edition.” Asked if he could explain what that meant, Snow replied, “No.”
The Taepodong-2 is the North’s most advanced missile and is capable of reaching parts of the United States with a light payload.
The North claims it has nuclear weapons, but it is not believed to have a design that would be small and light enough to top a missile.
South Koreans use binoculars to look across the border from Imjingak, north of Seoul, on Sunday.
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