Saturday, March 28, 2009

Kim Jong-il prepares to challenge Obama! Who will blink?

from The Sunday Times
March 29, 2009
by Michael Sheridan

WARSHIPS patrolled the Sea of Japan and Patriot batteries were set up around Tokyo yesterday as North Korea counted down to a missile launch intended to challenge President Barack Obama as he attends the G20 summit in London.Two Japanese guided-missile destroyers set sail under orders to intercept the Taepodong-2 if the launch goes wrong and it threatens to come down in Japan, a key US ally. North Korea has said any interception would amount to an act of war.

Kim Jong-il, the North Korean dictator, has hinted that if the missile is destroyed, his country will strike back violently, conduct a second nuclear weapons test and ruin years of American disarmament diplomacy.

North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, maintains that the Taepodong-2 is to launch a satellite into space for peaceful purposes. The US and Japan think it is a long-range missile designed for atomic warheads. Experts say the missile could be fired any time from today, although the North Koreans have set a date between April 4 and 8.

The launch has become a test of American power, according to one of the most senior foreign policy advisers in China. The US and Japan “will be bankrupt in reputation and dignity” if the missile violates Japanese sovereignty and is not destroyed, said Professor Zhang Lian-gui, of the

His comments, in an official journal, showed how keenly Chinese leaders were watching Obama’s performance under pressure. Obama will have his first summit with President Hu Jintao in London this week.

American and Chinese ships recently clashed in the South China Sea and the two nations exchanged angry words about a Pentagon report on China’s military build-up. The Chinese have refused to persuade their North Korean ally to call off the launch and are standing back to see how America and its allies deal with it.

The potential for error on both sides is high. The missile’s planned trajectory takes it soaring into space on an arc that leads across Japan. Previous North Korean missiles have exploded in flight or veered off course, and the US antimissile technology has not been perfected. Tokyo’s sophisticated Aegis vessels, the Kongo and the Chokai, which carry SM-3 interceptor missiles, were sent into the seas between the Koreas and Japan yesterday morning.

They will be joined tomorrow by two US Aegis destroyers, the USS John S McCain, skippered by a Korean-American naval officer, and the USS Chaffee. South Korea has sent its own Aegis destroyer, the King Sejong the Great.

On land, Japanese units deployed the latest Pac3 Patriot missile batteries to protect political and financial districts in Tokyo yesterday. The public was asked to stay calm. The Americans are also ready for the risk of a North Korean revenge strike across the border with South Korea.

As extra insurance, the North Koreans are holding captive two American video-journalists caught filming along the sensitive border with China. The two women, both of Asian origin, were working for a cable TV channel founded by the former vice-president Al Gore.

Diplomats said Kim was engaging in classic brinkmanship. Both China and Russia would almost certainly veto any United Nations security council resolution imposing new sanctions on North Korea, leaving the US and its allies with limited options. And Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, revealed in an interview with Fox News that Kim had refused even to let her new special envoy into the country.
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