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North Korea fires missiles in apparent test

North Korea fired two short-range missiles near its border with China on Wednesday in what appeared to be a test, the White House said.
/ Source: Reuters

The White House said North Korea fired two short-range missiles on Wednesday in a test that U.S. officials said proved the country’s nuclear program posed a threat to the region.

The missiles were launched amid a stalemate in talks over the North Korean nuclear program and at a time when the world’s attention has been focused on Iran’s atomic aspirations.

“Indications are that North Korea launched two short-range missiles. The regime has conducted similar tests in the past,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in a statement to reporters traveling with President Bush in Mississippi.

“We have consistently pointed out that North Korea’s missile program is a concern that poses a threat to the region and the larger international community,” he said.

A senior Bush administration official said in Washington the two missiles were launched from North Korea and landed in the country. “They did not leave North Korean territory,” he said.

Jack Pritchard of the Korea Economic Institute said this was “probably the third known incident of a short-range missile being fired over the last 18 months.” North Korea has abided by a 1999 moratorium on medium- and long-range missile tests.

U.S. officials urged Pyongyang to resume six-party talks aimed at ending the communist state’s nuclear program. The United States, Russia, Japan, China and North and South Korea take part in the talks.

Pyongyang urged to return to talks
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said those talks also provided a forum in which issues of missile proliferation and missile technology can be addressed.

“There are five other parties ready to come back, without precondition, and at an early date,” said McCormack of talks. “We continue to encourage them to do so and to return to the talks without preconditions; to be ready to engage in serious negotiations,” he added.

Ri Gun, a senior North Korean official, was quoted by the Yonhap news agency as saying North Korea could return to the talks unless the United States ended its financial crackdown on Pyongyang’s assets.

The United States has cracked down on firms it suspects of aiding Pyongyang in illicit activities such as counterfeiting that it says help fund the North’s nuclear program.

McCormack said Pyongyang must stop linking the resumption of talks to the lifting of financial restrictions imposed by Washington on North Korea.

“If North Korea wants to address issues related to illicit activities, they can do so, by not engaging in them. And I think that any country is going to -- I think it’s understandable any country is going to take actions to protect itself.”