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N. Korean missile a threat to Hawaii


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POSTED: Saturday, March 28, 2009

SEOUL » North Korea, which is preparing to launch what it calls a "peaceful" satellite, might have developed a missile with the range to reach Hawaii, said Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"In some cases, yes, they could probably get down to Hawaii," Mullen said yesterday on CNN's "Situation Room" program, when asked if North Korea has the ability to strike Hawaii or Alaska. The West Coast of the U.S. mainland is still out of the communist nation's range, he said.

North Korea said earlier this month that it plans to orbit a satellite between Saturday and April 8, a move South Korea suspects is a disguised ballistic missile test. The North's leader, Kim Jong Il, might hope to gain the attention of President Barack Obama, even at the cost of harsher international sanctions, said Jeung Young Tae, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

"North Korea is suffering from poor economic conditions and wants direct talks with Washington to speed much-needed aid," Jeung said today. "Kim wants to make sure his country isn't ignored as the Obama administration deals with economic problems and Iraq."

The U.S., China, Japan, South Korea and Russia are pressing North Korea to cancel the launch and refocus on negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea agreed in February 2007 to scrap nuclear weapons development in return for energy aid and normalized ties with the U.S. and Japan. The six-nation disarmament talks remain stalled as the isolated country refuses to let inspectors remove samples from its main Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

Successful or not, a missile launch might force Washington to accept North Korea as a potential threat, leading eventually to direct talks even if it first prompts a toughening of international sanctions, Jeung said.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada ordered his forces yesterday to shoot down any North Korean missile or falling debris that enters Japan's "airspace, waters or soil."