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North Korea Admits Missile Tests, Calling Launch Routine Exercise

By Norimitsu Onishi
THE NEW YORK TIMES


SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA

North Korea declared Thursday that it would continue to test-fire missiles and vowed to use force if other nations tried to stop it, even as it acknowledged for the first time that it had launched seven missiles the day before.

Responding to international condemnation with characteristic defiance and vagueness, North Korea said the launchings of the seven missiles, including one long-range Taepodong 2, had been “routine military exercises” designed to raise the nation’s “capacity for self-defense.”

In a statement attributed to its Foreign Ministry and released by its official press agency, the North stated that it would continue with its missile launchings and that it “will have no option but to take stronger physical actions of other forms, should any other country dare take issue with the exercises and put pressure upon it.”

The warning was issued as the United States and countries in this region remained divided over a Japanese-backed proposal for a U.N. Security Council resolution threatening sanctions if the North did not dismantle its nuclear program.

President Bush called the leaders of China and Russia on Thursday seeking a unified response against the test firings. But the two countries, both permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, said they opposed punitive sanctions.

“We think the Security Council should make a necessary response, but the response should be helpful to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and should help diplomatic efforts,” Jiang Yu, the spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a news conference in Beijing. When asked whether China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner and aid donor, was considering cutting aid, Jiang said no.

In Moscow, President Vladimir V. Putin said he was disappointed by the test firings but added that the North Koreans were right in their assertion that they had the legal right to perform such tests.

North Korea said that the launchings were the country’s “exercise of its legitimate right as a sovereign state” and that it was no longer bound by past moratoriums on missile tests because the United States and Japan had broken previous agreements.

In its statement, the North described Wednesday’s missile launchings as successful, an assertion disputed by experts who tracked the Taepodong 2.

North Korea’s continued defiance appeared to be intended to press the United States into direct talks, analysts and politicians said. For months it has been demanding that the United States lift a crackdown on North Korean businesses and banks that do business with the country.

It has also pushed for bilateral talks, twice inviting Christopher R. Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and the main American negotiator with North Korea, to Pyongyang.

Washington has refused, saying only that it would participate in the now stalled six-nation talks over the nuclear program. The six nations are the United States, North Korea, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.