US airs confidence it could down NKorean missile http://www.spacewar.com/reports/US_airs_confidence_it_could_down_NKorean_missile_999.html US airs confidence it could down NKorean missile by Staff Writers Washington (AFP) March 4, 2009 As Washington steps up diplomacy to prevent a North Korean missile launch, the US military is also voicing growing confidence that it can shoot it down if Pyongyang goes ahead. Stephen Bosworth, the new US administration's envoy on North Korea, was holding talks in China on Wednesday as he consults allies on what could turn into an early foreign crisis for President Barack Obama. But the US military is taking no chances with North Korea, which has warned it is preparing a "satellite launch". Washington and Seoul say the real purpose is to test a missile which could theoretically reach the US state of Alaska. In unusually blunt remarks, Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of the US Pacific Command based in Hawaii, said that interceptor ships are ready "on a moment's notice." "Should it look like it's something other than a satellite launch, we will be fully prepared to respond as the president directs," he said in a recent interview with ABC News. "Odds are very high that we'll hit what we're aiming at. That should be a source of great confidence and reassurance for our allies," he said. Charles McQueary, the Pentagon's director for operational tests and evaluation, said the United States has carried out three test scenarios for a North Korean missile launch and destroyed the threat each time. "To me, that was a demonstration that this system has the capability to work," McQueary told a congressional panel. North Korea is preparing its apparent missile test amid a stalemate in a six-nation 2007 deal under which the impoverished state agreed to end its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security promises. The United States and its allies have ramped up defenses since 1998 when North Korea fired a Taepodong long-range missile over Japan's main island of Honshu into the Pacific Ocean. The United States operates some 28 ground-based interceptors, 18 ships equipped with the Aegis radar tracking system and a number of radar systems, including the "Cobra Dane" complex in Alaska's Aleutian islands, according to the Missile Defense Agency. Regional US allies Japan and South Korea also have Aegis-equipped vessels. Japan, which has tense relations with North Korea, has set up Patriot interceptor missiles including in central Tokyo. North Korea expert Bruce Klingner, who formerly worked for the CIA, saw a 70 to 80 percent chance of Pyongyang going ahead with a missile test. "It is the next step in Pyongyang's escalating efforts to try to get the US to soften its demands in the six-way talks and back away from the requirement of international standards for verification" of nuclear disarmament, said Klingner, now at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. But he said that a test could trigger even closer military cooperation between the United States and its allies, such as leading South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak to expand missile defense. Until Lee took over a year ago, South Korea had a decade of liberal leaders who focused on reconciliation with the North and shied away from anything that could be seen as military confrontation. "A successful launch would significantly and overnight alter the threat perception in northeast Asia," Klingner said. Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Monday that Tokyo -- officially pacifist since World War II -- was ready to shoot a North Korean missile targeting the country. However, it remains to be seen -- both technically and politically -- if Japan could shoot down a missile flying over its territory toward the United States. Current Japanese military doctrine says the country will only fire on a missile that directly targets its soil, although conservative governments have called for a change to allow so-called "collective self-defense." earlier related report NKorea missile launch not imminent: minister North Korea is pushing ahead with preparations to fire a missile but a launch is not imminent, South Korea's pointman on the communist state said Wednesday. "I don't believe a missile launch is quite imminent but there are preparations ongoing," Unification Minister Hyun In-Taek told reporters, without indicating any timeframe. The communist state has said it will fire a rocket to put a satellite into orbit, in what Seoul and Washington see as a pretext to test a missile that could theoretically reach Alaska. They say any launch would breach a UN resolution adopted after the last missile test in 2006. The new US envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, is touring China, Japan and South Korea this week. He will discuss ways to dissuade the North from a launch and try to persuade it to resume stalled nuclear disarmament talks. Inter-Korean tensions are also high, after the North on January 30 announced it is scrapping all peace accords with Seoul -- including one that recognised the western sea border as an interim frontier. Seoul has warned of possible naval clashes along the Yellow Sea border known as the Northern Limit Line. "I consider the situation in the West (Yellow) Sea and around the NLL as very serious," Hyun said. "But we are responding very closely and resolutely." The North is angry at South Korea's conservative leader Lee Myung-Bak, who scrapped his predecessors' policy of offering virtually unconditional aid to Pyongyang. The minister again offered the North dialogue "anytime, anywhere" but told it to stop heaping insults on Lee. He said Seoul would "actively consider" providing any humanitarian aid that the North requires. earlier related report China, US opposed to NKorean missile launch: envoy China and the United States agree that North Korea should not go ahead with a missile launch, a US envoy said here on Wednesday after talks with Chinese officials. "We both believe it would not be a good idea to have a missile launch," the new US envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, told reporters. North Korea has said it will fire a rocket to put a satellite into orbit, but the United States and South Korea believe it is a pretext to test a missile that could theoretically reach Alaska. They say any launch would breach a UN resolution adopted after Pyongyang's last missile test in 2006. China, one of North Korea's closest allies, has been more circumspect about its position in public, but has also in recent days called for Pyongyang not to do anything that would jeopardise regional stability. Bosworth briefed the media immediately after what he described as very good talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. He said China and the United States were also in agreement that stalled six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programme should restart soon. "I think there is a great convergence of views that we are very much committed to the notion that it is important to resume six-party talks as soon as possible," Bosworth said. Under a landmark six-nation deal in 2007, North Korea agreed to scrap its atomic weapons programmes in exchange for badly needed energy aid. But the talks, also involving the United States, Russia, South Korea, China, and Japan, became deadlocked late last year when North Korea balked at demands to allow verification of disarmament moves. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, who also met Bosworth in Beijing, said verification remained the key hurdle, Xinhua news agency reported. "Parties involved have not reached an agreement on the issue and efforts are being made to find a solution acceptable to all," said Wu, Beijing's envoy to the six-party talks, which are hosted by China. Bosworth is scheduled to travel Thursday to Tokyo for talks with top Japanese officials. He is then due to fly on Saturday to Seoul, where he will meet Russian and South Korean officials.