N. Korea: Our right to work on missiles

SEOUL: North Korea said yesterday it has the right to develop missiles, increasing fears it might resume test-launching long-range missiles while the United States is focused on Iraq. 

Pyongyang has fired two short-range missiles off its east coast in the past weeks, raising tensions in a region already roiled by a standoff over its suspected nuclear weapons programmes. 

“The DPRK's missile programme is of purely peaceful nature and does not pose a threat to anyone,'' Pyongyang's state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said, referring to North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. 

The commentary, carried by the North's official news agency KCNA, said it was the communist nation's “sovereign right to go ahead with its missile programme.'' 

Japanese media reported last week that North Korea appeared to be making final preparations to test-launch a ballistic missile, although government officials in the region have denied having strong evidence that a test is imminent. 

With the United States focused on Iraq, experts’ say North Korea might use the opportunity to test long-range missiles or reprocess spent nuclear fuel to make atomic bombs. That would be viewed as an attempt to force Washington into direct negotiations over its nuclear programmes. 

On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Colin Powell warned against missile tests and said fuel reprocessing would make it harder to find a peaceful solution to the dispute. 

“I think it would make political dialogue and finding a diplomatic way forward much more difficult if they've started the reprocessing facility, and I don't know what utility they think they would find in launching missiles toward any of their neighbours,'' Powell said. 

Washington says if North Korea begins reprocessing its spent fuel, it could have enough plutonium for several atomic bombs within months. 

On Tuesday, North Korea's Foreign Ministry attacked Japan's plan to launch spy satellites later this month, saying it poses a “grave threat'' to the isolated communist state. 

North Korea warned that it too has the right to launch “satellites.'' – AP  

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