SKorea's Roh plays down North's missile tests
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has played down North Korea's missile tests which sparked international alarm, saying they were staged for political purposes and were not a threat.
The July tests were most likely politically motivated, with the largest projectile "too meager" to reach the United States but "too big" to be directed at South Korea, local media Friday quoted him as saying in Helsinki.
"I think the missile test was aimed at achieving political purposes rather than posing military threats," Roh said.
"However, there are many news media that regard the missile test as a real military threat instead of a political move, and this makes the issue more difficult to resolve."
Roh, speaking Thursday during a European tour, also said his country has no information on whether or when the communist North would conduct a nuclear test but that speculation would only hurt inter-Korean relations.
The North defied international warnings and fired seven ballistic missiles on US Independence Day, including its long-range Taepodong-2 believed to be capable of striking America's western seaboard.
The six short and mid-range missiles and the Taepodong landed in the Sea of Japan (East Sea). The Taepodong flew just two kilometers, according to a Japanese report.
The 15-member UN Security Council, including the North's only major ally China, unanimously adopted a resolution condemning its actions and imposing missile-related sanctions.
A US news report has said the North may now be preparing a nuclear test. It declared itself a nuclear-armed state in February last year but is not known to have tested an atomic weapon.
Asked about the possibility of further actions by the North, Roh said talking about hypothetical situations "will only make many people worried."
"It could also harm inter-Korean relations, so it's very difficult for me to answer that question," he said.
The North has boycotted six-nation talks aimed at curbing its nuclear programme since November, to protest US sanctions on a Macau-based bank accused of laundering money for the impoverished regime.
Roh's comments set the stage for a strained summit in Washington next Thursday with US President George W. Bush, who is pushing for enforcement of the missile-related sanctions and working to curb the North's missile exports.
Roh has pursued a policy of engagement with the North, an approach defended by his Prime Minister Han Myeong-Sook.
She told Britain's Financial Times newspaper the South would continue providing aid for the North despite the missile tests.
"With regard to the missile test, they were not threatening to start a war or to use force, they just want to get something out of the US through six-party talks. It was a way of addressing the negotiations and creating a more favourable environment for them," Han told the paper.
"If you look at the position of the South Korean government, we were disappointed and regret their actions but we will consistently pursue the peace and prosperity policy and will try to get North Korea to come back to the talks.
"Some people question how we can cooperate with a communist regime run by a dictator, but if we used force, that could lead to a war."
The North Friday called for an end to the US "occupation" of the South. Washington has maintained tens of thousands of troops in the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
"The US is neither a friendly country nor an ally of the South Korean people," said Rodong Sinmun, the ruling party newspaper.
"They should see through the gangster-like nature of the US imperialists as aggressors, plunderers and murderers and resolutely oppose the US domination and interference."
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