News

News Release

DoD News Briefing


Tuesday, September 15, 1998 - 2:15 p.m.
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

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Q: Can you give us the most current assessment now of North Korea's August 31st missile test and what capability the U.S. believes it represents?

A: Yes. I want to begin with a caveat; that we are still looking at some of the information we have gathered and analyzing it in an effort to make a clearer determination of what actually happened and what the capabilities of the North Korean missile program may be. But we believe that North Korea attempted to launch a satellite and failed.

There are two, at least two significant revelations from this effort. The first is that they launched a multi-stage missile and they were able to get the stages to separate. The second is that the third stage of the missile apparently was a solid fuel missile. The other two stages were more traditional liquid fuel missiles, which is what the SCUD is and the No Dong, so they have some solid fuel capability. That's what we have learned from this latest test.

When you add those two factors up, it means that they are experimenting with missiles, they have gone some way down toward developing a missile with a much longer range capability.

Now this is worrisome and we've stated that many times. It shows that they are attempting to develop missiles that would give them a longer range strike capability.

Having said all of that, it's necessary to stress again what I started with, that their effort to launch a satellite failed and the launch did not work as planned so they clearly have some problems they have to overcome. We will be watching their efforts, if any, to overcome those problems very carefully.

Q: How does this affect the U.S. assessment of how far away North Korea is from having the ability to launch missiles that, for instance, could strike the United States? Does this shorten the time that we think, until we get to that point?

A: I think that that's one of the things we have to look at very carefully in the future. Clearly, they failed to achieve the range they wanted. We're talking about quite a small satellite. We're talking about quite a small third stage without a lot of propellant capacity or capability. So we have to continue to monitor the findings, but this is a distressing development on their part. The development of a multi-stage missile and the use of a solid propellant in the third stage are both distressing, and they both show that they're attempting to develop longer range missiles.

Q: If they had succeeded, what sort of range would it have given them?

A: Well, they didn't succeed so I don't think it's worth talking about if they had succeeded.

Q: What sorts of potential ranges would a solid fuel multi-stage capability...

A: We're only talking about a solid fuel in the final stage. We're talking something that could be approaching intercontinental ballistic missile range.

Q: You're talking about 5,000 miles?

A: Let's talk in terms of kilometers. Five thousand kilometers.

Q: Three thousand miles.

A: We're talking about a range -- four to six, potentially.

Q: Four to six thousand kilometers?

A: Kilometers.

Q: If there was a third stage... There were two impacts reported. One basically straddled Japan; one went into the Sea of Japan, the other went into the Pacific on the other side of Japan. Where did the third stage go?

A: I'm not sure I know that. I don't know precisely.

Q: What kind of satellite was it? Spy satellite, telecom...

A: All I can tell you is that they have claimed it was a satellite designed to broadcast patriotic songs to the North Korean people. We have not been able to hear any of these broadcasts because we don't think the satellite succeeded, but they claim it was supposed to broadcast glorious songs.

Q: In his meeting with the Chinese delegation today, did they agree, in Cohen's meeting, did they agree on an approach for dealing with this North Korean missile problem?

A: They talked about the North Korean missiles. They also talked about the importance of maintaining the framework agreement which is designed to stop the North Koreans from restarting a nuclear program. General Jiang said that China had a strong commitment to stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region as a whole. He repeated his earlier statement that China is adamantly opposed to nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

Q: In the Pentagon's authoritative document, the Proliferation, Threat, and Response, which many of use as a handy field reference, it refers to the belief that North Korea is developing two longer range missiles -- the Taepo Dong 1 and the Taepo Dong 2. Do we now think that this... Was this test of a longer range Taepo Dong 2? Or is this a third missile under development that we weren't aware of?

A: It's not a third missile under development that we weren't aware of. I think the important point here is this missile was derivative of missiles they've had for some time. We've been watching its development. We have expected them to try to test a long range missile. And they have done that. We will continue to watch this development.

They have not succeeded with their program so far, but they are clearly trying to develop a longer range capability.

Q: Just to clarify, you do or do not think this was a Taepo Dong?

A: It was a Taepo Dong.

Q: Two or one?

A: I don't want to get into the semantics of it here because I'm not sure that we know at this stage, but it was a Taepo Dong.

Q: I thought both the Taepo Dong 1 and 2 were both two stage missiles. This was a three stage missile. So is it a Taepo Dong with a third stage added to it, or is it a new kind of missile?

A: Without getting into semantics, the important point is that they are working on developing a longer range capability. Let's just leave it at that. I'm not sure the semantics are important. What's important here is the capability they are trying and so far have failed to develop.

Q: Does the fact that they were trying to launch a satellite, had a three stage missile, launched toward the east where all orbiting, I believe most orbiting space shots are fired to the east, does this legitimize or does this take away the injury to Japan of this missile overflight that they were trying to launch a satellite? Does that make a difference?

A: I think countries have to make their own decisions about what they consider injurious, and I don't want to speak for how the Japanese should view this. Let them describe their own feelings about this.

I think they appreciate, as do we, that North Korea at a time when its people are starving is investing a lot of money and energy in developing longer range missiles.

Q: I think Secretary Cohen will meet the counterpart of Japan next week.

A: Right.

Q: Can you tell us what are they going to discuss, or is it including this North Korean satellite issue?

A: This is the annual so-called 2+2 meeting which involves the Secretary of Defense and State of the United States and their counterparts from Japan. There, of course, has been a personnel change in the Japanese Cabinet, so this meeting takes on additional importance because there are some new personalities involved.

But they will talk about general security issues. They will certainly talk about regional issues. They'll talk about the importance of moving forward with work in Japan on the defense guidelines, full implementation of the defense guidelines which have been negotiated and agreed to by the two sides. These guidelines represent a very, very important achievement in our relationship. They really show that the security relationship between the U.S. and Japan is important if not central to both countries. So we believe, and we know Japan believes that it's important to move forward with these guidelines. I'm sure they'll also talk about theater missile defense and some of the challenges posed by developments on the Korean Peninsula.

So there will be a wide range of topics. There will be a press conference at the end of the meeting which is currently scheduled for Saturday in New York. There will be, I'm sure, a complete readout on what happened at the meeting.

Q: The meeting is Saturday?

A: It's currently scheduled for Saturday.

Q: Could you give a quick readout on the meeting that Secretary Cohen had with the Japanese Diet members that were here? Are they any closer to wanting to start on a joint cooperation on the theater missile defense?

A: I think that's a decision for the government to make. The administrative branch to make, rather than the legislative branch at this stage. But they did discuss the North Korean situation and some of the challenges that are posed to both Japan and the United States. They also discussed the importance of defense guidelines.

Q: Was there anything conclusive that came out of that?

A: I was not at the meeting and I didn't get a full readout. Secretary Cohen has made it a practice to meet with visiting members of the Diet. I think this is the third or fourth time he's done it since he's been Secretary here in the United States, and he's met with some members when he's been in Japan as well. As a former Member of Congress he thinks these meetings are important. Because of the centrality of the relationship between the U.S. and Japan, he wants to maintain a very full dialogue with leaders of Japan, so he does that fairly regularly.

Q: This new capability that the North Koreans are working on, does the Pentagon believe that they're developing it themselves, or that they've purchased it from someone?

A: I think there's a lot more we need to know about this program and we're in the process of trying to find that out.

Q: In light of the missile tests, are you still confident that they are fulfilling their commitments under the agreed framework?

A: Remember the agreed framework does not cover missiles. It covers their nuclear program. And we have recently reached a new agreement or a new understanding with North Korea to proceed with talks in a variety of areas. So far we believe that they are adhering to the agreed framework agreement which is a crucially important agreement, because this is the agreement reached in October of 1994 that, under which they stopped work on their nuclear program.

One of the things we agreed to do with the North Koreans is to continue talks that will give us access to various facilities in North Korea so we can monitor better what they're doing in their program, and also the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy inspectors, will go in and monitor what they're doing at the Yongbyon facility where they have stopped their nuclear work.

Q: Did they agree to allow inspections of those underground sites...

A: That's what we're negotiating. We're continuing negotiations about inspections of the underground sites.

Q: A follow-up from earlier in terms of the assessment of when North Korea might have an ICBM capable of reaching the U.S. As a result of this new information, is there, or has there been any decision to revisit that issue? Obviously it appears from what you're saying that the North Koreans are much further along than previously expected.

A: That's not entirely the case. I mean we expected them to launch a longer range missile and they did. They have launched a missile that failed to achieve what they set out to achieve. Obviously it would be better if they weren't trying to achieve longer range capability. We've made that very clear to the North Koreans. I think the Chinese, the Japanese, I think all the nations in the region feel that way -- that this is a potentially destabilizing development. That's one of the reasons why we're trying to engage in missile limitation talks, certainly missile export limitation talks, with the North Koreans. But the fact is that they've tried and failed to do something, and we will watch very closely what happens next.

Q: The Secretary doesn't see any need to revisit that issue vis-a-vis national missile defense?

A: Making decisions and reaching realizations about this is an organic process. It's not something we just do in the month of September. We monitor stuff all the time, and we adjust our conclusions according to the evidence. So far we are still looking at aspects of this launch. We're still sort of combing through the radar and other information that we collected to figure out what happened.

Q: Can I ask you to look through the other end of the telescope? Isn't it better if they shot straight up? I mean we use military rockets to put up peaceful satellites. If they had instrumented a range and did a point to point launch, it would seem to me that would reflect more militarily significant.

Do they have a point in saying that hey, we used a military rocket to launch a peaceful satellite?

A: I think that's a good point. It does not obscure the fact that they have a capability to go over a longer range than they did before; that they are improving their range.

But you're absolutely right. What they said they were doing here and what we concluded they were doing was trying to launch a satellite and do it into an orbit, and we believe they failed to do that.

Q: Is that far less worse than if they had an (inaudible) range and they were doing...

A: Yes. Yes.

Q: So you would say to Japan, do not be so concerned, to stay in Kedo and keeping alive?

A: I would say to you what I said to you ten minutes ago. It's up to Japan to make its own determination about what it thinks about this. I don't speak for the Japanese government. I have a hard enough time speaking for a small part of my own government. I'm certainly not going to take on speaking for the Japanese government.

Q: But we speak to the Japanese government and we can assure them that there may not have been anything belligerent...

A: The Japanese government is entirely capable of reaching its own decisions on this issue.

Q: How about No Dong? Do you have anything updated on No Dongs?

A: I do not.

Q: Going back to Taipo Dong, do you accept the North Korean's assertion that the full purpose was to launch a satellite? Or do you think they have also tested the missile capability?

A: Maybe this point's too subtle, but let's just start with the facts. The North Koreans say that they were trying to launch a satellite. Our conclusion is that yes, there's very strong evidence that they were trying to launch a satellite. The North Koreans say that they not only tried to launch a satellite but they did successfully launch a satellite. We have found no evidence that they successfully launched a satellite.

So on the fundamental point whether they successfully launched a satellite, we disagree.

The capability that allows them to launch satellites is the capability to project payloads over a longer range. We consider that to be worrisome. We're glad that they're trying to launch satellites to broadcast glorious music to their people. But... And as George Wilson pointed out, that's less worrisome than a point to point test.

But the fact of the matter is that it does display some enhanced capability or an intent to develop an enhanced capability on the part of the North Koreans.

Now launching payloads is very complex and it requires a lot of things to work at the same time. You have to have enough propellant. If you have a big payload you have to have a lot of propellant. And it has to burn for the proper amount of time. You've got to get it into the right orbit. It's very complex. You have all sorts of protective devices on payloads, and all of these things we're continuing to examine, to find out exactly what they were doing and what their capabilities are.

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Press: Thank you.