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DPRK may fire missile toward Hawaii
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The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) may fire a long-range ballistic missile toward Hawaii in early July, a Japanese news report said Thursday. 

The missile, believed to be a Taepodong-2 with a range of up to 6,500 km, would be launched from the DPRK's Dongchang-ni site on the northwestern coast, said the Yomiuri daily, Japan's top-selling newspaper. It cited an analysis by the Japanese Defense Ministry and intelligence gathered by US reconnaissance satellites.

The missile launch could come between July 4 and 8, the paper said.

While the newspaper speculated the Taepodong-2 could fly over Japan and toward Hawaii, it said the missile would not be able to hit Hawaii's main islands, which are about 7,200 km from the Korean Peninsula.

A spokesman for the Japanese Defense Ministry declined to comment on the report. The Republic of Korea's (ROK) Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service the country's main spy agency said they could not confirm it.

Tension on the divided Korean Peninsula has spiked since the DPRK conducted its second nuclear test on May 25 in defiance of repeated international warnings. Pyongyang declared on Saturday it would bolster its nuclear programs and threatened war in protest of UN sanctions taken for the nuclear test.

US officials have said the DPRK has been preparing to fire a long-range missile capable of striking the western US. In Washington on Tuesday, General James Cartwright, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it would take at least three to five years for the DPRK to pose a real threat to the US west coast.

President Barack Obama and ROK President Lee Myung-bak met in Washington on Tuesday for a landmark summit in which they agreed to build a regional and global "strategic alliance" to persuade the DPRK to dismantle all its nuclear weapons. Obama declared Pyongyang a "grave threat" to the world and pledged that the new UN sanctions on the DPRK will be aggressively enforced.

In Seoul, Vice-Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho told a forum Thursday that the DPRK's moves to strengthen its nuclear programs is "a very dangerous thing that can fundamentally change" the regional security environment. He said the ROK government is bracing for "all possible scenarios" regarding the nuclear standoff.

Chemical weapons

The independent International Crisis Group think tank, meanwhile, said the DPRK's massive stockpile of chemical weapons is no less serious a threat to the region than its nuclear arsenal.

It said the DPRK is believed to have between 2,500 and 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, phosgene, blood agents and sarin. These weapons can be delivered with ballistic missiles and long-range artillery and are "sufficient to inflict massive civilian casualties on South Korea (the ROK)."

"If progress is made on rolling back Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, there could be opportunities to construct a cooperative diplomatic solution for chemical weapons and the suspected biological weapons program," the think tank said in a report released Thursday.

It also called on the US to engage the DPRK in dialogue to defuse the nuclear crisis, saying "diplomacy is the least bad option." The think tank said Washington should be prepared to send a high-level special envoy to Pyongyang to resolve the tension.

(China Daily June 19, 2009)

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