Video: N. Korea preparing for another missile test

NBC News and news services
updated 5/29/2009 12:40:58 PM ET 2009-05-29T16:40:58

North Korea is showing signs of preparing for another long-range missile launch after launching a series of short-range missiles, including one on Friday.

The communist country warned Friday it would act in "self-defense" if provoked by the U.N. Security Council, which is considering tough sanctions over the communist country's nuclear test. U.S. officials told NBC News that preliminary results of atmospheric tests confirmed that underground test, at a yield of 1 to 2 kilotons.

U.S. military officials also told NBC that North Korea appears to be preparing another long-range missile test. According to the officials, spy satellites have detected "activities ... movement of people and equipment" around the long-range missile launch site outside Pyongyang.

The officials say the activity appears to be very preliminary, and it would apparently take several months before the North Koreans would be prepared to conduct their fourth test of a long-range missile.

The North fired the latest short-range missile from its Musudan-ni launch site on the east coast, a South Korean government official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter. It is the sixth short-range missile North Korea has test-fired since Monday's nuclear test.

The official did not provide further details. But the Yonhap news agency cited an unidentified South Korean government official as saying the missile is a new type of ground-to-air missile estimated to have a range of up to 160 miles.

Yonhap said the missile is believed to be an improved version of the SA-5, which North Korea introduced in 1963 and deployed in eastern and western parts of the country. The SA-5 was originally produced by the Soviet Union.

U.S. officials tell NBC News that preliminary results of atmospheric tests indicate North Korea did detonate a nuclear device, somewhere between 1 to 2 kilotons as earlier estimated.

The tests were conducted on atmospheric samples collected by U.S. Air Force "sniffer planes" shortly after the underground nuclear test on Monday to determine the amount of plutonium particles released into the atmosphere.

It's not clear yet if the North Korean test would be considered a success — whether the 1- to 2-kiloton explosion is what the North Koreans had intended.

Retaliation threat
With tensions high on the Korean peninsula, Chinese fishing boats left the region, possibly to avoid any maritime skirmishes between the two Koreas. But U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the situation was not a crisis and no additional U.S. troops would be sent to the region.

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North Korea, meanwhile, warned it would retaliate if provoked.

"If the U.N. Security Council makes a further provocation, it will be inevitable for us to take further self-defense measures," the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea also accused the Security Council of hypocrisy.

"There is a limit to our patience," the statement said. "The nuclear test conducted in our nation this time is the Earth's 2,054th nuclear test. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have conducted 99.99 percent of the total nuclear tests."

The North has been strident since its test — which it has also called a self-defensive measure. It did not specify what further action it was considering in response to U.N. resolutions, or what it would consider a provocation.

Fears have increased of military skirmishes, particularly in disputed waters off the western coast, after North Korea conducted the nuclear test on Monday and then renounced the truce that has kept peace between the Koreas since the Korean War ended in 1953.

The waters were the site of two deadly clashes in 1999 and 2002.

From Yeonpyeong, the South Korean island closest to North Korea, about a dozen Chinese ships could be seen pulling out of port in the North and heading elsewhere. South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that more than 280 Chinese vessels were fishing in the area earlier this week, but the number has dropped to about 140.

It was not clear if the Chinese vessels, in the area for the crabbing season, were told by the North to leave or if they were leaving on their own for fear of clashes at sea.

"For now, it seems quiet," said local construction worker Lee Hae-un, 43. "But if North Korea provokes us with military power, I think our government should actively and firmly counteract it."

Alert level raised
South Korean and U.S. troops facing North Korea raised their surveillance on Thursday to its highest level since 2006, when North Korea tested its first nuclear device. About 28,000 American troops are stationed across the South.

North Korea, whose 1.2-million strong military is one of the world's largest, says it is merely preparing to defend itself against what it says are plans by the United States to launch a pre-emptive strike to overthrow its communist government.

The United States has repeatedly denied any intention to attack North Korea.

Video: Long history of selling weapons In Washington, the Army's top officer, Gen. George Casey, expressed confidence that the U.S. could fight a conventional war against North Korea if necessary, despite continuing conflicts elsewhere.

But Gates, en route to Singapore for regional defense talks, tried to lower the temperature.

"I don't think that anybody in the (Obama) administration thinks there is a crisis," Gates told reporters aboard his military jet early Friday.

Meanwhile, talks at the U.N. Security Council over possible sanctions for the nuclear test were moving forward slowly.

Russia's U.N. ambassador said Thursday there was wide agreement among key world powers on what a new U.N. resolution should include, but said putting the elements together will take time because the issues are "complicated."

Resolution next week?
A list of proposals was sent Wednesday to the five permanent veto-wielding council members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and the two countries most closely affected by the nuclear test, Japan and South Korea.

Diplomats said a draft of the proposed resolution is not expected to be circulated until next week.

The two Koreas technically remain at war because they signed a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953. North Korea disputes the U.N.-drawn maritime border off their west coast and has positioned artillery guns along the west coast on its side of the border, Yonhap said.

Traffic at the border between the Koreas appeared to be normal. Yonhap said more than 340 South Korean workers crossed to a joint industrial complex in the North.

The two Koreas are also maintaining a communication line to exchange information on commercial vessels passing through each other's waters, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.

More on North Korea

NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski contributed to this report from The Associated Press.

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