Russia plays down North Korean rhetoric as missile threat emerges
Russia downplayed North Korea's threats Thursday, as a Japanese newspaper reported the reclusive nation could be ready to test fire a long-range missile toward Hawaii within weeks.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said Pyongyang's declarations of war against any country that stops its ships at sea or vows to increase its nuclear bomb-making program shouldn't be interpreted "in such a direct way."
He also signalled North Korean leaders should be thankful the sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council after its recent nuclear test were not harsher.
Nesterenko called the UN sanctions "balanced and well-considered" and suggested that Russia and China — the North's closest allies on the Security Council — had negotiated with other members to avert tougher penalties.
"In large part thanks to the efforts of Russia and China," he said, the sanctions resolution "does not envisage the use of military force."
Russia and China have traditionally used their Security Council veto powers to soften sanctions against the North.
On Wednesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao urged North Korea to return to international nuclear talks and said they have "serious concern" about the increasingly belligerent threats coming from Pyongyang.
Missile launch in July?
As Russia and China attempted to coax North Korea into more constructive dialogue with the international community, a Japanese newspaper reported a long-range missile test could be launched from North Korea's northwestern coast in early July.
The missile, believed to be a long-range Taepodong-2 with a range of up to 6,500 kilometres, would be launched from the Dongchang-ni site between July 4 and 8, said the report in Thursday's Yomiuri daily.
It cited an analysis by the Japanese Defence Ministry and intelligence gathered by U.S. reconnaissance satellites.
The missile, according to the report, could fly over Japan toward Hawaii, but wouldn't reach the state's main islands, which are roughly 7,200 kilometres from the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs. The regime revealed last week that it is also producing enriched uranium. The two materials are key ingredients for making atomic bombs.
North Korea conducted its second nuclear test on May 25 following its first underground atomic blast in October 2006.
With files from The Associated Press