Intelligence suggests North Korea could have another long-range Taepodong-2 at a launch site on the country’s east coast, Yonhap news agency quoted South Korea’s defense minister as saying Friday.
The report came after North Korea test-fired a long-range missile and six other shorter-range missiles on Wednesday, drawing international condemnation.
Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung said in Friday’s report that an earlier intelligence report showed the North may have moved two long-range missiles to the site before Wednesday’s launch, Yonhap said. He said, however, that further intelligence was needed to confirm the second missile was still at the launch pad, Yonhap said.
On Thursday, North Korea angrily mocked international criticism of its multiple missile tests, threatening to fire off more rockets.
In the face of nearly unanimous world condemnation of the seven missile tests on Wednesday, Pyongyang’s foreign minister released a blustery statement declaring it had the right to develop and test its weapons — and vowing unspecified retaliation against anyone who tries to stop it.
“Our military will continue with missile launch drills in the future as part of efforts to strengthen self-defense deterrent,” said the statement, carried in state-run media. “If anyone intends to dispute or add pressure about this, we will have to take stronger physical actions in other forms.”
The statement did not specify what actions North Korea would take.
The aggressive stance from Pyongyang coincided with intense diplomatic activity in world capitals to formulate a response to the tests. Washington and its allies — particularly Japan — clamored for sanctions against the North, but struggled against resistance by China and Russia.
North Korea set off an international furor when it tested seven missiles, all of which landed into the Sea of Japan without causing any damage. The blasts apparently included a long-range Taepodong-2 that broke up less than a minute after takeoff and splashed into the sea.
On Friday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that Choe Myong Nam, councilor at the North’s mission to the U.N. in Geneva, said the tests weren’t an attack on anyone.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei — their nations’ senior negotiators on North Korea — conferred on the missile tests Friday in Beijing.
The meeting came just hours after their presidents spoke by phone. Hill also omet with the Chinese foreign minister before heading to Seoul as part of a regional diplomatic push.
China, which provides oil and other economic assistance to North Korea, is seen as key to getting Pyongyang to stop its missile tests and resume long-stalled negotiations over its nuclear weapons programs. The U.S. has urged Beijing to exert maximum leverage on North Korea, though so far Chinese efforts have been largely limited to diplomatic appeals.
South Korea said Friday it had turned down a North Korean proposal to hold military talks this week, citing tension over the missile launches. The rejection came despite Seoul’s vow to press ahead with political and economic engagement with its neighbor as a way to solve the long-running conflict on the divided Korean Peninsula.
North Korea proposed the meeting on Monday, two days before the missile tests. It would be aimed at setting up talks between generals to try to reduce tension along the world’s most heavily fortified border.
A Japanese newspaper reported Friday that North Korea had targeted South Pacific waters in the vicinity of Hawaii with the long-range missile. The conservative daily Sankei cited unnamed U.S. and Japanese and officials as saying Japan’s Defense Agency and the U.S. military reached that conclusion after analyzing the missile’s path from data collected from intelligence equipment.
The report couldn’t be immediately independently confirmed, and Pentagon officials said Thursday that the very brief flight of the Taepodong-2 made it difficult to collect useful technical data, such as its intended target. At this point, U.S. officials are leaning toward the theory that it was configured as a space launch to deliver a satellite into orbit, rather than as a flight test of a ballistic missile.
NBC: U.S. refutes claims on targeting
But NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski reported late Thursday that U.S. officials dispute the newspaper's claims that the missile launched July 4 was aimed at the waters off Hawaii.
U.S. intelligence reports told NBC News that the missile started tumbling out of control and self-destructed so soon after it was launched that U.S. spy satellites and radar could not plot the missile's intended launch angle and flight path.
The North statement threatening more tests came as South Korean officials said intelligence reports showed continued activity at Northern missile sites, suggesting further firings could be in the works.
It was unclear if or when the missiles would fly. Japanese officials said they had no indications another Taepodong test was being prepared, and South Korean officials said the launches were not imminent.
South Korea’s government ordered two airlines to avoid a flight route near the path of North Korean missiles, a civil aviation official said. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority told the two airlines — Asiana Airlines and Korean Air — not to use a flight route over the Sea of Japan starting Friday until July 11, said authority official Choi Seung-hyun said
The North hailed the launches on Wednesday as a success and made no mention in its statement of the Taepodong-2 failure.
“The successful missile launches were part of our military’s regular military drills to strengthen self defense,” said the statement. “As a sovereign country, this is our legal right and we are not bound by any international law or bilateral or multilateral agreements.”
The ministry also denied it had violated a missile moratorium, saying it was only in effect when Pyongyang was in dialogue with the U.S. The statement also blamed the Japanese for making an international issue out of North Korea’s unsolved kidnappings of Japanese citizens.
Meanwhile, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported Friday that Australia has decided to curtail its diplomatic ties with North Korea over the tests. Australia is one of a handful of countries that maintains limited diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.