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2009/03/12 07:08 KST
(LEAD) Clinton urges N. Korea not to launch missile, proposes missile talks

   By Hwang Doo-hyong
WASHINGTON, March 11 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday urged North Korea not to launch a ballistic missile, proposing to hold talks on North Korea's missile program as well as six-party talks on ending the North's nuclear ambitions.

   Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Clinton stressed the "need to have a conversation about missiles," adding, "We would like to see it be part of the discussion with North Korea."

Clinton's suggestion for missile talks came just hours after Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman, backed away from assuring any intent to intercept North Korea's missile launch, although U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior officials have suggested the U.S. could shoot down a missile from North Korea.

   National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair also told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday that he believes North Korea might be intending to launch a peaceful space payload, although other U.S. officials see the North's claim as a cover for launching a ballistic missile capable of reaching the mainland U.S.

   Clinton stopped short of saying what the United States would do if North Korea actually launches the missile, which the North claims to be a rocket to orbit a communications satellite.

   "I think that our partners in the six-party talks are concerned about the missile launch," she said. "They are willing to address it, if it does happen, with us, in a variety of ways, including the Security Council. But I don't want to, you know, talk about hypotheticals."

   Clinton noted that five parties of the six-party talks have been outspoken in their opposition to the North Koreans' missile launch and have attempted to dissuade North Korea from proceeding.

   U.S. officials have been threatening to refer any North Korean launch of a missile or satellite to the United Nations Security Council for additional sanctions, saying the launch of a satellite involves the same technology as a ballistic missile launch, which is banned under a resolution adopted in 2006.

   "We believe that the missile launch, for whatever purpose it is stated to be aimed at, is in violation of the Security Council resolution," Clinton said. "We are still working to try to dissuade the North Koreans."

   North Korea claims it is planning to launch a satellite into orbit as part of its space program, warning that any interception would trigger war, including destruction of U.S. or Japanese interceptors.

   The 2006 resolution, adopted after North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile, was diluted greatly by China, which made sure that any sanctions to be applied by U.N. member states are voluntary rather than mandatory.

   Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said that the Security Council "would have no choice but to fully enforce the existing resolutions and pass a follow-on agreement that contains stronger punitive measures" if it "wants to salvage any credibility for the viability of its resolutions and to uphold the tenet of nonproliferation."

   Klingner said that the North's missile or satellite launch "would represent the first foreign policy test of President Obama's rhetoric," noting the new U.S. president's campaign pledge to apply stronger sanctions on North Korea in case the reclusive communist state fails to abide by its commitment for dismantlement and nonproliferation of its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

   The North's move to launch a rocket comes as South Korea and the U.S. have begun a 12-day annual joint military exercise, which the North described as a rehearsal for an invasion.

   Earlier in the day, State Department spokesman Robert Wood dismissed such a charge as "baseless and nonsense."

   Clinton, meanwhile, said she does not want the missile issue to divert attention from the six-party talks.

   "It is important to recognize that the North Koreans entered into obligations, regarding denuclearization, that we intend to try to hold them to," she said. "And that is something we're going to do, regardless of what happens with their -- with what they may or may not launch in the future."

   Clinton said she would like to see the six-party talks resume "at the earliest possible moment."

   "Let's not confuse the two," she said. "The goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula remains a paramount goal, and the six-party-talk framework should be restarted so that we can begin to work on that."

   The nuclear talks were deadlocked in December when North Korea refused to agree to a verification protocol for its nuclear facilities, although a six-party deal calls for the North's denuclearization in return for a massive economic aid, diplomatic recognition by Washington and its allies and a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula to replace a fragile armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

   Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea, just concluded a three-nation Asian tour to discuss resumption of the multilateral nuclear talks, but neither visited Pyongyang nor met with North Korean officials.

   "As you know, he was not invited to go to North Korea, which we regret," Clinton said. "He was prepared to go on a moment's notice to begin discussions with the North Koreans, as I have been doing with all of our six-party partners."