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Missile test hits peace hopes

Justin McCurry

N. Korean projectile can hit U.S., fears intelligence agency

TOKYO: International efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons programme were in danger of unravelling on Sunday amid reports that it has launched a short-range conventional missile into the Sea of Japan.

``It appears that there was a test of a short-range missile by the North Koreans and it landed in the Sea of Japan,'' the White House Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, said.

U.S. agencies were still assessing the information to determine exactly what took place. Yonhap, the official South Korean news agency, quoted intelligence officials in Seoul as saying a missile was launched just north of Hamhung on North Korea's east coast.

Japanese media had earlier quoted Government sources as saying that the missile, launched at around 8 a.m. Japanese time, had a range of about 100 km and was most likely to have been an anti-ship or small ballistic missile.

It was not immediately clear whether the launch was a test.

The launch of a missile would almost certainly damage the prospects for the multi-party nuclear talks involving the two Koreas, China, the U.S., Russia and Japan, which have been stalled for almost a year.

"Negotiating tactic"

However, analysts say such launches are part of a familiar negotiating tactic — that of creating a minor crisis which could force concessions.

The North is thought to have test-fired short-range missiles three times in 2003. The U.S. defence intelligence agency has said that Pyongyang could mount a nuclear warhead on a missile capable of hitting the U.S. west coast. —

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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