U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the fact that North Korea's launch of a new long-range missile failed does not diminish the threat posed by the country's missile program. The secretary spoke Wednesday, about 12 hours after the last of seven missile launches North Korea made, all of which ended harmlessly in the Sea of Japan.
Secretary Rumsfeld says he was notified within one minute of the first North Korean launch, and that he participated in a series of conference calls with senior commanders responding to each launch as it happened, including the launch of the long-range missile.
"The Taepodong-2 is estimated to have the range that conceivably could reach the United States," said Donald Rumsfeld. "And the fact that it failed is a fact, but it does not change the nature of the launch."
The Defense Department says the long-range North Korean missile failed within a minute of its launch. The Department also says it detected all seven North Korean missile launches and determined quickly that they were not a threat to the United States or its territories. But Secretary Rumsfeld says that does not mean the United States is any more comfortable with North Korea's missile program.
"We have interests that are other than simply the land mass of the United States of America," he said. "Certainly, we have an alliance with Japan and we have an alliance with the Republic of Korea."
Secretary Rumsfeld says U.S. experts are continuing to analyze data from tracking the launches, and that he is being kept informed, but he declined to provide details, beyond confirming that the long-range North Korean missile only lasted between 38 and 40 seconds. The secretary said he does not think North Korea would have launched such an expensive missile and then intentionally destroyed it after such a short flight.
Earlier, Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman said the North American Air Defense Command, known as NORAD was able to assess the significance of the North Korean launches almost immediately.
"Each and every launch was detected, monitored, and interceptors were operational during the missile launches that took place," said Bryan Whitman. "The commander of NORAD was able to determine rather quickly that the missiles didn't pose a threat to the United States or its territories."
Whitman would not say exactly what 'interceptors' were operational. The new U.S. missile defense system is partly activated and has had about a 50 per cent success rate in tests. That system, based in Alaska and California, is designed to intercept long-range missiles like Taepodong-2 launched by North Korea. Shorter range missiles, which North Korea also launched, would be attacked, if necessary, by shorter-range, regionally-based systems.
Whitman says the Defense Department was prepared to respond to the North Korean launches if that had been necessary.
"We have well-established procedures for dealing with missile launches that potentially pose a threat to the United States or its territories," he said. "Those procedures were followed for these activities."
Whitman was apparently referring, at least in part, to the conference calls that involved Secretary Rumsfeld.
The Pentagon spokesman would not say what, if any, military steps the United States is taking or considering in the wake of the North Korean launches. He said the focus will likely shift to diplomatic efforts.