By Hyung-jin Kim
The Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Japanese, South Korean, and U.S. missile-destroying ships set sail to monitor North Korea’s imminent rocket launch, as Pyongyang stoked tensions March 30 by detaining a South Korean worker for allegedly denouncing the North’s political system.
North Korea says it will send a communications satellite into orbit sometime between April 4 and April 8. The U.S., South Korea, and Japan suspect the regime is using the launch to test its long-range missile technology, and they warn that North Korea would face U.N. sanctions under a Security Council resolution banning the country from any ballistic activity.
North Korea has threatened to quit international disarmament talks on its nuclear programs if punished with sanctions. The country’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper reiterated the warning on March 29, saying the talks will “completely collapse” if taken to the Security Council.
On March 30, the North also threatened to take an unspecified “resolute countermeasure” against South Korea if it joins a U.S.-led international campaign aimed at stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
South Korea has only been an observer to the Proliferation Security Initiative, but Seoul officials recently said they were considering fully joining the program after the North’s rocket launch.
Seoul’s participation would be treated as “a declaration of war,” Pyongyang’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
In preparation for the rocket launch, Japan deployed Patriot missiles around Tokyo and sent warships armed with interceptors to the waters between Japan and the Korean peninsula as a precaution, defense officials said.
Two U.S. destroyers anchored at a South Korean port after holding military exercises with the South Korean navy also are believed to have departed for waters near North Korea to monitor the rocket launch.
The USS McCain and the USS Chafee left Busan on March 30, a U.S. military spokesman said. He declined to disclose their destination and spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he was not authorized to discuss the ships’ routes.
All of the warships — of South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. — are equipped with sophisticated combat systems that enable them to track and shoot down enemy missiles. However, leaders of all three countries have indicated it’s unlikely the warships will respond militarily to the North’s launch. ♦
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report from Tokyo.