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Published: Friday, 7/7/2006

North Korea's missiles

NORTH Korea's decision to take the occasion of America's Fourth of July celebration and the launch of the Discovery shuttle mission to test-fire seven missiles was deliberately timed to rattle its interlocutors on the subject of its weapons capacity. It worked.

Many of North Korea's neighbors and the United States have condemned the action, and plans are under way to consider it in a United Nations Security Council meeting.

What is the real importance of North Korea's latest move?

The weakness of the technology, made evident by the test-fires, is significant. North Korea is no threat to the United States, though it may be a threat to some of its neighbors. All of its missiles ended up in the Sea of Japan between the Korean peninsula and Japan.

The idea that its current missiles, particularly any with a nuclear warhead, could make it to the United States is ridiculous. Any American military action to preclude an attack is unnecessary and illogical.

What North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong Il, say they want from the United States is a direct, bilateral pledge not to attack them and not to seek to overthrow the Pyongyang regime and Mr. Kim.

What they get instead from the Bush Administration is continued insistence on dealing with them only in the six-power negotiating context, along with China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, and threats.

There was certainly logic in trying to deal with North Korea's nuclear program in coordination with its neighbors, but it hasn't worked. North Korea still wants to deal directly with the nation whose president characterized it - lumped with Iraq and Iran - as an "axis of evil" country, ripe for regime change.

The choice of the July 4 holiday to cut loose clearly signals Pyongyang's primary concern. It chose to do so even though China, which really does have North Korea by the throat through energy and rice supply, had publicly told it recently not to.

Economic sanctions against North Korea will drive its regime toward even more desperate measures as its already weak economy collapses further.

Providing Japan more and more sophisticated air defense weaponry, which the Bush Administration has just done, will only serve to raise the level of armaments in an already heavily armed and dangerous region.

Perhaps the graver danger presented by the latest North Korean test-fires is that the Bush Administration will take what has occurred as a pretext to take military action against North Korea. The situation in North Asia would thus become more dangerous for the United States, making it easier for the administration to call for a Republican win in November's congressional elections to protect Americans from the enhanced threat.

The United States needs to act like a great power and calm North Korea's fears. What exactly is wrong with telling them America is not going to attack?

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