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US Seeks to 'Head Off' North Korean Missile Test

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The U.S. State Department said Thursday that the United States is working to dissuade North Korea from going ahead with its plan to launch a satellite next month. U.S. officials say the launch is a disguised long-range missile test and would be destabilizing.

State Department officials give no credence to the notion that the launch would be for scientific purposes and they say the United States is working diplomatically to try to prevent a North Korean action that they say would be provocative, destabilizing and unhelpful.

North Korea had been hinting for several weeks that a major missile test was upcoming. And Thursday, the reclusive communist government told U.N. aviation and maritime agencies of plans to launch a satellite early next month.

North Korea fired a long-range missile over Japan in 1998 in an action that generated broad international protests. The United States maintains that the self-described satellite launch would violate U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, which bans North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests, and was approved after Pyongyang's 2006 nuclear test.

State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood (undated photo)
State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood (undated photo)

State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood says U.S. officials are in contact with regional allies and other concerned governments to try to "head off" the launch.

"The only thing that this act would do is to de-stabilize the region," he said. "And as you know, this region doesn't need any further destabilization. And so what we're going to try to do is convince the North not to carry out this launch. It is indeed provocative and we will work, as I said, with others to try and see what we can do to head this off."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday after a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi that the parties to the Chinese-sponsored negotiations on North Korea's nuclear program are united in their opposition to the missile launch.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 11 Mar 2009
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 11 Mar 2009

She said they have agreed, if the launch goes forward, to discuss a collective response, perhaps in the Security Council.

Clinton also said the United States is trying to restart the stalled six-party nuclear negotiations as soon as possible.

A senior State Department official said the Obama administration's envoy for North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, still intends to have direct engagement with Pyongyang to encourage the North Koreans to return to negotiations.

Secretary Clinton said Wednesday that Bosworth had been prepared to travel to North Korea "at a moment's notice" during his first mission to the region last week, but said he regrettably did not get an invitation to do so.

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