n korean missiles 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Defying stern warnings from Washington and Tokyo, North Korea at least five missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2 capable of reaching the United States, the White House said, describing the tests as "a provocation."
Four of the five missiles were short range and the long-range Taepodong-2 failed after 35 seconds. The short-range missiles landed in the Sea of Japan.
The audacious military exercise by the isolated communist nation came as the United States celebrated the Fourth of July holiday and launched the space shuttle Discovery from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
"We are urgently consulting with members of the Security Council," said John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations. Thomas Schieffer, the US ambassador to Japan, called the launches "a provocative act," and the White House said Pyongyang had further alienated itself from the world community.
"The North Koreans have again clearly isolated themselves," White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters at the White House, adding that President George W. Bush has been in consultation with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
"It is a provocation," said a senior administration official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Two US State Department officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the long-range missile was the Taepodong-2, North Korea's most advanced missile with a range of up to 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles). Experts believe it could reach the United States with a light payload.
The launch came after weeks of speculation that the North was preparing to test the Taepodong-2 from a site on its northeast coast. The preparations had generated stern warnings from the United States and Japan, which had threatened possible economic sanctions in response.
"North Korea has gone ahead with the launch despite international protest," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said. "That is regrettable from the standpoint of Japan's security, the stability of international society, and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
The missiles all landed hundreds of kilometers (miles) away from Japan and there were no reports the missiles caused damage within Japanese territory, Abe said.
He said the first missile was launched at about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, or about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday EDT. The two others were launched at bout 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., he said.
If the timing is correct, the North Korean missiles were launched within minutes of Tuesday's liftoff of Discovery, which blasted into orbit from Cape Canaveral in the first US space shuttle launch in a year.
"We would hope they would cease and desist from these provocative acts," Schieffer said. "This is no way to advance their foreign policy goals."
It was not clear which launch was the long-range missile. The Japanese government was unable to confirm the report by US officials that a Taepodong-2 was fired.
Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the UN in New York, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview: "We diplomats do not know what the military is doing."
North Korea's missile program is based on Scud technology provided by the former Soviet Union or Egypt, according to American and South Korean officials. North Korea started its Rodong-1 missile project in the late 1980s and test-fired the missile for the first time in 1993.
North Korea had observed a moratorium on long-range missile launches since 1999. It shocked the world in 1998 by firing a Taepodong missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.
On Monday, the North's main news agency quoted an unidentified newspaper analyst as saying Pyongyang was prepared to answer a US military attack with "a relentless annihilating strike and a nuclear war."
The Bush administration responded by saying while it had no intention of attacking, it was determined to protect the United States if North Korea launched a long-range missile.
On Monday, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns warned North Korea against firing the missile and urged the communist country to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear program.
The six-party talks, suspended by North Korea, involved negotiations by the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia with Pyongyang over the country's nuclear program.
The United States and its allies South Korea and Japan have taken quick steps over the past week to strengthen their missile defenses. Washington and Tokyo are working on a joint missile-defense shield, and South Korea is considering the purchase of American SM-2 defensive missiles for its destroyers.
The US and North Korea have been in a standoff over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program since 2002. The North claims to have produced nuclear weapons, but that claim has not been publicly verified by outside analysts.
While public information on North Korea's military capabilities is murky, experts doubt that the regime has managed to develop a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on its long-range missiles.
Nonetheless, Lt.-Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told US lawmakers last week that officials took the potential launch reports seriously and were looking at the full range of capabilities possessed by North Korea.
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