North Korea tests seventh missile amid world outcry

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The Independent Online

Russia expressed "serious concern" today over the North Korean missile tests, and called on Pyongyang to return to its seven-year moratorium on launches.

"The Russian side calls on North Korea to exercise restraint and the observances of the commitments it has taken upon itself in the missile sphere, and will outline its position on the given question within the framework of international law and taking into account the task of guaranteeing regional stability," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "This position is being brought to the attention of the Korean side in Moscow and Pyongyang."

The statement was issued about 16 hours after the tests and followed hours of cautious statements from Russian diplomats.

"We consider that this is an ambiguous event, and that it does not aid the six-party process," the Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev as saying earlier Wednesday.

But Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the international affairs committee of the lower house of parliament, gave a harsher assessment.

"This is inadmissible and unacceptable. This is a clear provocation on the part of North Korean authorities, while a difficult dialogue regarding the nuclear program of North Korea is going on, while the countries of six are trying to resume the process of consultations," Kosachev said in televised comments.

"The present test is a clear challenge to the world community, an inappropriate and excessive attempt to demonstrate military force and it undoubtedly needs a serious discussion or even condemnation at the level of the U.N. Security Council."

The Foreign Ministry said that the missile test had posed a threat to international shipping in the Pacific and violated the world practice of prior warning of launches.

"In addition, according to information that has arrived, which is now being verified, the remains of the rocket launched by North Korea fell in close proximity to Russian shores," the ministry said.

"The Russian side expresses serious concern over such actions that contradict the expectations of the international community," it said.

The missiles apparently fell harmlessly into the Sea of Japan. The ITAR-Tass news agency reported from Tokyo that one fell about 250 kilometers (150 miles) from Russia's Pacific port of Vladivostok.

Russian state television said that missile fell just a few dozen kilometers (miles) from another Russian port, Nakhodka.

State-controlled Channel One television reported that concerned Nakhodka residents had tried to approach the North Korean consulate to get an explanation and had been blocked by police.

U.S. officials said the long-range Taepodong-2 failed shortly after being launched, calling into question the technological capability of North Korea's feared ballistic missile program. Pyongyang last fired a long-range missile in 1998.

But the audacious military exercise drew immediate, international condemnation. The White House said it was a "provocation," while Japan called a UN Security Council meeting today and warned of economic sanctions against the impoverished, communist country.

China is North Korea's closest ally, but Russia has worked to re-establish Soviet-era ties with Pyongyang in recent years. Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited North Korea and played host twice to its leader, Kim Jong Il.

Interfax and ITAR-Tass quoted unnamed Defense Ministry officials as saying that Russia had received no warning of the launches from North Korea, but that there were no bilateral or international agreements obligating Pyongyang to do so — in contrast to the Foreign Ministry statement on international practice.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said Russia was trying to establish the exact landing sites. He said Russian diplomats would play "a most active role" in the Security Council meeting later Wednesday.

Mikhail Margelov, the chairman of the international affairs committee of Russia's upper house of parliament, told ITAR-Tass that North Korea "apparently wants to widen its room for maneuver in talks with the 'six,' and demonstrate once again its independence in the military and political spheres." He expressed hope that the world community would not react with "senseless sanctions or other 'punishments."

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