March 31, 2009 in Nation/World

Navy destroyers positioned for N. Korea rocket launch

U.S. characterizes military maneuver as precautionary
Greg Miller Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS John S. McCain leaves port in Busan, South Korea, on Monday.
(Full-size photo)

U.S. journalists will stand trial

 SEOUL, South Korea – Two American journalists detained at North Korea’s border with China two weeks ago will be indicted and tried, “their suspected hostile acts” already confirmed, Pyongyang’s state-run news agency said today.

 The report did not elaborate on what “hostile acts” the journalists allegedly committed.

 Euna Lee and Laura Ling, reporters for San Francisco-based Current TV media venture, were detained by North Korean border guards March 17.

 A report in South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper March 22 said the two were undergoing “intense interrogation” for illegal entry and alleged espionage.

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Two U.S. Navy destroyers, including one capable of intercepting missiles, were moved out of a South Korean port Monday amid expectations that North Korea might launch a rocket over the Pacific Ocean by the end of the week.

The repositioning of the ships marked the latest in a series of military and diplomatic maneuvers between the United States and Pyongyang.

The pending launch has emerged as an early foreign-policy test of the Obama administration, which hopes to restart talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea has insisted that the pending launch is to lift a civilian satellite into space. But U.S. officials have said the real purpose is to test intercontinental ballistic missile technology that could someday be used to carry a warhead and possibly reach the U.S. coastline.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Sunday that the United States would not fire on the North Korean rocket unless it appeared to be headed for U.S. territory.

“If we had an aberrant missile, one that was headed for Hawaii … we might consider it,” Gates said in a television interview on Fox News. “But I don’t think we have any plans to do anything like that at this point.”

Lt. Matt Galan, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, confirmed that the destroyers McCain and Chafee both left port in Busan, South Korea, on Monday, but he declined to discuss their mission or destination. Galan said only that the McCain was armed with missile tracking and interception capability.

Recent satellite imagery indicated that North Korea had finished assembling the rocket, a Taepodong 2, on a launchpad along the country’s eastern coastline.

Pyongyang has said it intends to launch the rocket between Saturday and April 8.

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