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South Korean Official: North's Missile Launch 'Not Imminent'

  • Kurt Achin

South Korea's new chief official on North Korea policy says the North Korean missile launch analysts have been warning about is unlikely to happen in the immediate future.

South Korea's newly appointed unification minister, Hyun In-taek, told reporters Wednesday North Korea does seem to be preparing to launch a missile, but not right away.

He says the launch does not appear to be imminent - but there are indications the North is still setting one up.

For weeks analysts have warned of increased activity at a North Korean launch facility. Last week, Pyongyang announced it was planning to launch a "satellite" in the interest of space research.

American, Japanese and South Korean defense officials believe the announcement is a cover for a long-range missile test. Japan and U.S. defense officials have not ruled out attempting to shoot down a North Korean missile, under certain circumstances. Japan's Kyodo news agency reports Tokyo plans to deploy an advanced destroyer capable of doing that to waters between Japan and North Korea.

South Korean media quote President Lee Myung-bak as saying the North may be organizing the launch to gain leverage with the new American administration. A few days ago, Mr. Lee called for an "unconditional conversation" with North Korea, but Pyongyang has refused to talk with the South Korean president, whom it calls a "traitor."

Wednesday, South Korean Unification Minister Hyun urged North Korea to return to dialogue and to pay attention to its human rights situation.

Hyun says South Korea is appealing to the North based, on human rights as a universal value, not as a way to criticize the North's government.

Hours earlier in Geneva, North Korean delegate Choi Myung-nam rebuked a South Korea envoy's call for the North to respect universal human rights at a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting.

"The South Korean impertinent allegations are only aimed at provoking fratricidal confrontation and inciting hatred," said Choi.

Last month, a U.S. government report listed North Korea as one of the world's worst human rights abusers - accusing it of torture, collective punishment in labor camps and forced abortion for many women. In Wednesday's edition of its official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, Pyongyang called the United States a "champion of human rights violations" which is in no position to judge other countries.