April 12, 2013

In N. Korea, flowers and missiles on display

Jean H. Lee / The Associated Press

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"I don't know whether there will be a missile launch test, but if we do I think it will be just for national defense," Kim Jong Gum said. "And I think there's no need for other countries to try to tell us what to do and what not to do."

No military parade or mass events are expected, but North Korea has used major holidays to show off its military power. Analysts say Pyongyang could well mark the occasion with a provocative missile launch, although it has not explicitly said it would conduct one.

During last year's celebrations, North Korea failed in an attempt to send a satellite into space aboard a long-range rocket. The U.S. and its allies criticized the launch as a covert test of ballistic missile technology in defiance of a UN ban on the country's missile and nuclear development.

Another try in December was successful, and that was followed by the country's third underground nuclear test on Feb. 12, possibly taking the regime closer to mastering the technology for mounting an atomic weapon on a long-range missile.

On Thursday, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, a nonmilitary agency that deals with relations with South Korea, said the coordinates of targets have been "put into warheads." It didn't clarify, but the language suggested a missile.

Officials in Seoul and Washington say Pyongyang appears to be preparing to test-fire a medium-range missile designed to be capable of reaching Guam. Foreign experts have dubbed the missile the "Musudan" after the northeastern village where North Korea has a launch pad, and say it has a range of 3,500 kilometers (2,180 miles).

Newly revealed U.S. intelligence shows Washington believes North Korea may be capable of arming a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency concluded in an assessment revealed Thursday.

South Korea, however, does not believe Pyongyang has a nuclear device small enough to put on a missile, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

U.S. President Barack Obama demanded an end to the escalating war rhetoric. In his first public comments since North Korea warned of a nuclear war, Obama called it time for the isolated nation "to end the belligerent approach they have taken and to try to lower temperatures."

"Nobody wants to see a conflict on the Korean Peninsula," Obama said Thursday, speaking from the Oval Office alongside U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

He sent Kerry to Seoul to discuss how to get China to join the United States in putting pressure on Pyongyang, according to a senior U.S. official who was present at the meeting.

China backed North Korea with troops during the 1950-53 Korean War and has been a major economic pipeline for the impoverished country. With little arable land, North Korea has struggled to feed its people, with two-thirds of the population of 24 million grappling with chronic food shortages, according to the World Food Program.

"If anyone has real leverage over the North Koreans, it is China," James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told Congress on Thursday. "And the indications that we have are that China is itself rather frustrated with the behavior and the belligerent rhetoric of ... Kim Jong Un."

Since taking power, Kim has pledged to end the era of "belt-tightening" in North Korea by placing his focus on reviving the economy.

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