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Japan, U.S. diverge on view of North Korea missiles

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe government is increasingly concerned over North Korea’s recent launch of short-range ballistic missiles, as cutting-edge technology may have been used to make the missiles difficult to intercept.

However, perception of this issue differs between Tokyo and Washington. U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed his intention not to regard the missile launches as problematic, saying the missiles in question were short-range.

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said Wednesday that even short-range missiles pose a threat to Japan. Expressing alarm over the issue, Iwaya said, “North Korea not only has [a number of] missiles but also is improving their capabilities.”

South Korean military authorities confirmed Wednesday the missiles launched were short-range ballistic missiles.

The Japanese government believes, as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, that the firing of ballistic missiles violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.

However on July 26, Trump expressed his intention not to regard the missile Pyongyang launched the previous day as a problem, saying it was short-range and possessed by many countries.

His remarks suggest Washington prioritizes the U.S.-North Korea denuclearization talks and does not view short-range missiles that cannot reach the United States as an issue.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the U.S. media on July 25 that Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, had pledged at the summit meeting with Trump in June to continue refraining from intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile launches. However, Pompeo did not touch on short-range missiles.

Japan believes it is not desirable for it to become the norm for the United States not to respond to Pyongyang’s missile launches unless they involve intermediate- and long-range ballistic missiles that can reach the United States.

“This could lead to the decoupling of Japan and South Korea’s security from that of the United States,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

Japan is concerned that missiles North Korea has launched in May and later may have been built with technology from the Russian-designed Iskander, a state-of-the-art short-range ballistic missile. Unlike the usual parabolic trajectory, the Iskander has a complicated flight pattern. It is hard to intercept, increasing its potential for circumventing missile-defense systems.

A government source said a missile cannot be intercepted if its trajectory changes as little as five meters.

It has not yet been confirmed that the missiles launched by North Korea followed an irregular flight path. There is a view within the government that although technology similar to that in the Iskander was used for the North Korean missiles, the work has yet to be completed.

But if North Korea continues to launch missiles, it will allow them to improve their missile technology, thereby posing a greater threat.

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