US plans Patriot shield for S Korea

TOKYO - The United States will send Patriot missiles to South Korea to protect the country from possible missile attacks from Communist North Korea, writes Terry McCarthy. The plan to send the Patriots, which were used in the Gulf war to shoot down Iraqi Scud missiles, represents a hardening of the US stance against North Korea, which has been defying pressure to open its nuclear programme to international inspection.

For some months Washington has attempted to lure North Korea into a negotiated solution by holding out the possibility of diplomatic recognition and economic aid. But Pyongyang has repeatedly snubbed Washington. In the past week the White House has adopted a significantly tougher line on North Korea.

In Paris on Monday Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, expressed his 'urgent concern' about North Korea to the Chinese Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen. The US is now threatening to call for economic sanctions in the UN Security Council to be imposed on North Korea if it does not accept inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency by 21 February. China has been against sanctions on North Korea, but the US is now arguing that it has made every possible effort to solve the issue diplomatically and can no longer allow Pyongyang to flout international nuclear controls.

The Pentagon supports the plan to send the Patriots. While President Clinton has not yet given the final go-ahead, administration officials said his approval was likely. Yesterday the New York Times reported that the Pentagon had already approved the request from the US commander in South Korea and that 36 missile-launchers would be shipped out. However, the effectiveness of the Patriots has been under question since the Gulf war.