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US says no plans to down N. Korea missile

THE United States has no plans to shoot down a missile the Democratic People's Republic of Korea plans to launch in a test Washington sees as a step toward developing an intercontinental ballistic missile, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday.

The DPRK says it will launch a communications satellite between April 4 and 8, but the US and some other countries believe it will test a long-range missile, the Taepodong-2, which is already thought to be on its launch pad.

"I would say we're not prepared to do anything about it," Gates said on "Fox News Sunday" when asked if the Pentagon planned to shoot down the missile.

"If we had an aberrant missile, one that looked like it was headed for Hawaii, we might consider it, but I don't think we have any plans to do anything like that at this point," Gates said.

Gates said the Pentagon does not believe North Korea has the ability to put a warhead on the missile or reach the US West Coast, but he thinks that is Pyongyang's long-term goal.

"I don't know anyone at the senior level in the US government who does not believe this technology is intended as a mask for the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile," he said.

Gates said Japan might take action if the North Korean missile fails and threatens to drop debris over its territory.

North Korea has given international agencies notice that the rocket's planned trajectory should take it over Japan, dropping booster stages to its east and west.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported yesterday that Japan's Air Self-Defense Force had started to deploy units carrying Patriot missiles capable of shooting down a rocket to the northern prefectures of Akita and Iwate.

A Japanese newspaper reported yesterday that North Korea is preparing to launch a short- to mid-range ballistic missile separately from the long-range rocket that Pyongyang said it will launch next month.

The Sankei newspaper, quoting unidentified Japanese sources, said North Korea may fire the closer-range missile shortly after the long-range missile is launched.

Gates said the missile test was "very troubling" and evidence that international diplomacy has not worked in curbing North Korea's nuclear intentions.


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