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North Korea Postpones Parliament Session, Raises Concerns About Missile Tests

  • Kurt Achin

North Korea has postponed a session of its parliament, an unusual move that follows hints this week that it might resume testing missiles.

South Korea's Unification Ministry says it is still evaluating an unusual move by North Korea to delay a meeting of its central lawmaking body.

The North Korean Supreme People's Assembly was scheduled to meet next Wednesday, but the North Korean Central News Agency says it has been postponed at the request of lawmakers. No reason was given, and North Korea experts in the South describe the move as unusual.

The assembly sessions are usually a formality for approving policies set by leader Kim Jong Il and other senior officials.

In Seoul, Unification Ministry officials reject speculation that the move reflects a power struggle in Pyongyang. They say their assumption is that Kim Jong Il is in complete control of North Korea.

The move follows statements from Pyongyang this week that it was ending a five-year-old moratorium on missile tests, and hints that it would hold such tests.

In addition, last month the North Korean government suspended participation in multilateral nuclear disarmament talks and said it not only had nuclear weapons, but was making more. But days later, Kim Jong Il indicated talks were still possible.

In Seoul, Kim Taewoo, a researcher at the Korean Institute for Defense Analyses, calls Pyongyang's latest actions "smile and blackmail."

"The smile part is remarks that North Korea is still ready to come back to the dialogue table, and then leaking the possibility of another missile test is the blackmail part," he said.

Mr. Kim says he doubts recent reports that North Korea has developed intercontinental ballistic missiles. He says if Pyongyang does conduct a test, it would probably be with a missile type it already has.

The North in 1998 for the first time demonstrated it has medium-range missiles by testing a rocket that flew over the main Japanese islands. The surprise test caused great concern in both Tokyo and Washington about Pyongyang's growing weapons technology.

For the past two years, the focus has been on its nuclear weapons programs. The United States, Japan, China, South Korea and Russia have met three times with North Korean officials to negotiate an end to their country's nuclear ambitions. The talks have made no progress.

China's senior delegate to the talks has said that North Korea wants Washington to apologize for calling it an "outpost of tyranny."

U.S. officials say North Korea should come back to the bargaining table "without preconditions." They say the United States has no intention of invading North Korea, and urge Pyongyang to live up to international obligations to remain free of nuclear weapons.

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