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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

White House Calls Missile Test 'A Provocative Act'; White House Tries to Assure Americans of No Immediate Military Threat

Aired July 4, 2006 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Kitty Pilgrim in the CNN studios in New York.

Tonight, a dangerous escalation in the North Korean missile crisis. The White House has announced that North Korea test-launched at least six missiles today. That includes one long-range missile, the Taepodong-2.

Now, Pentagon officials have previously said this missile has the potential of reading -- reaching U.S. soil. The U.S. tonight is calling today's test -- quote -- "a provocative act." Washington has been warning for weeks that North Korea was planning a long-range missile test. And the international community has warned North Korea against carrying out these tests.

Now, the White House tonight is trying to assure Americans that there is no immediate military threat from these tests.

Ed Henry is live at the White House with the very latest -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Kitty.

To update our viewers, at about 7:00 Eastern time, we reported from a senior administration official here at the White House that there were in fact six missile tests by North Korea. Then, a short time later, Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, walked that back, and said the White House could only confirm five tests.

Now we're being told by my colleague Barbara Starr, she has military sources saying in fact there were six tests by North Korea. They're going back to that original number of six tests. What is the bottom line here at the White House?

Spokesman Tony Snow saying that, despite the fact this is an urgent and serious situation, the White House believes there is -- quote -- "no immediate threat" to the American people from these tests. Nevertheless, President Bush has obviously been dealing with this situation all afternoon and evening.

The president has been in touch with his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley. When asked if the U.S. is considering military action in response, Tony Snow stressed, this is not a U.S.-vs.-North-Korea matter, not for the U.S. to deal with militarily, that this is North Korea vs. the rest of the world, and it is up to the regime in North Korea, dictator Kim Jong Il, to come back to the table for those six-party talks.

This White House has obviously faced many allegations that it did not give diplomacy enough of a chance in the run-up to the war in Iraq. So, now, in this situation, they're stressing that they're very eager to tamp the situation down, seek some relief through diplomatic channels.

In fact, the president tomorrow is sending a senior State Department official, Chris Hill, to the region, to Korea, on Wednesday to deal with this diplomatically -- the president sending this representative also because he does not want to deal with it directly, does not want to get engaged in a tit-for-tat with a dictator, Kim Jong Il in this situation -- in fact, the president tonight planning to go ahead with what he always planned to do, which is to watch the fireworks here at the White House that will be going off over the National Mall for the Independence Day celebration.

And we're also told by Tony Snow, the president is planning to go ahead with a small birthday bash with family and friends a couple of days early. As you know, the president is turning 60 on Thursday. So, he's trying, despite the serious situation, to go ahead, as much as he can, as much as the White House can, with business as usual -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much, Ed Henry. Thanks, Ed.

Well, U.S. intelligence officials continue tonight to piece together this fast-moving development from North Korea.

And national security correspondent David Ensor is in Washington with the very latest from there -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, seldom have so many intelligence assets been pointed at one country and one series of launching pads as they are this evening.

You can be sure that the nation's spy satellites, the eyes and ears in the sky, as well as aircraft and ships that are capable of receiving signals and of taking pictures, are all in place in that area. And what U.S. intelligence is doing now is analyzing what they have got and exactly what happened.

Now, military officials are telling my colleague, Barbara Starr, that, in fact, there were six -- six missile launches, and -- and that sixth one is a new one. The White House had previously said to Ed Henry and other reporters there that they thought there were six. Then they dialed back to five. Now we know of an additional strike -- an additional launch, pardon me, according to -- to the Pentagon, talking to our Barbara Starr.

So, we're looking at six launches. Most of them were -- were Scuds, which are small, short-range missiles. They can be lethal if they hit you, but they don't go that far. But there was a No-dong missile, which is a medium-range missile. And there was one Taepodong-2, which is a long-range missile, which, if everything was working right, could conceivably reach U.S. soil, certainly Alaska and possibly even part of the West Coast.

Now, the North Koreans, in the view of U.S. analysts, don't have the kind of guidance systems that would allow them to hit a target accurately. So, while there is concern about this development, about these tests, they were relieved to see that the Taepodong fell out of the sky in less than a minute, and now they're just assessing the situation from here on -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much, David Ensor.

Well, joining me tonight is Gordon Chang. He's one of this nation's leading experts on North Korea. He's the author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World."

And thank you very much, Gordon, for joining us tonight. And your expertise is very welcome here.

Sort out for us what exactly is going on. Now, they watched the Taepodong being fueled for now almost a week or more. And yet there was some uncertainty over whether this -- this test would occur.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": Whether North Korea would test or not would always depend on whether the domestic pressures to test would be stronger or weaker than the international pressures not to test, because although North Korea is a one-man regime, there is intense politics in that regime.

And a successful test would have bolstered Kim Jong Il's standing. And I'm not talking about the North Korean people. I'm talking with essentially the 300 or so people that constitute this government, and especially the military.

PILGRIM: Mmm-hmm.

We're hearing that military sources are telling CNN that there were six missiles. There's a lot of confusion surrounding these tests today, five missiles, according to the White House, at one point. Does it really matter?

CHANG: I think what North Korea was trying to do was to send a political message, because if they were really just trying to test, to validate their designs, they would have tested their long-range missile, and that would have been it. The fact that they fired off more means that they're saying to the United States: We can defy you. We can get way with it. So, the message was political, as well as an attempt to sort of figure out how good their missiles are.

PILGRIM: The American public is watching all of this, North Korea named in the axis of evil speech years ago. Now all of this activity -- what should the American people think at this point?

CHANG: Well, I think the most important thing is that the United States cannot, on its own, stop North Korea from doing things. For the last three or four weeks, we have been involved in intense diplomacy with South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and it hasn't worked.

So, it really means, right now, that we have got to deal with this problem, and we're probably not going to get the help of China. In the last three or four weeks, there was a lot of high-level military exchanges between China and North Korea. And if Beijing didn't want North Korea to test, it would have prevented it.

PILGRIM: Mmm-hmm.

Thanks very much, Gordon Chang. Thanks, Gordon.

Well, do stay tuned to CNN for continuing coverage of this breaking story.

And, after this short break, our coverage will continue with CNN International.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUGH RIMINTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Welcome back to continuing coverage of North Korea's missile launches, Pyongyang launching six missiles in the last few hours.

I'm Hugh Riminton in Hong Kong.

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Kristie Lu Stout. And we would like to welcome the audience joining us at our sister network, CNN USA.

Well, officials believe at least one of the missiles landed in the Sea of Japan, about 600 kilometers from the island of Hokkaido.

And for the reaction there, we're joined by Atika Shubert, now joining via broadband in Tokyo.

Now, previously, Japan had warned of stern measures in retaliation for a missile test. A series of missile tests have indeed happened, at least one missile landing in the Sea of Japan. What is the likely reaction in Tokyo?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here people are very anxious, seeing these missile tests.

As you point out, almost all of them fell into the Sea of Japan, clearly Japan in the pathway of those missiles. However, Japan's government says that they are issuing a strong protest -- protest, and they're looking at all the legal possibilities to pressure North Korea.

But Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Shinzo Abe, stopped short today in a press conference of saying that Japan would impose economic sanctions. That is something that Japan has threatened in the past. But, today, Mr. Abe said that Japan has to find out more about the details of this missile launch before Japan takes the decision to impose economic sanctions.

He did say, however, that Japan does want to take this issue to the U.N. Security Council -- no word yet on when or if a Security Council meeting will be convened. Japanese and U.S. government officials are, at the moment, discussing whether or not that is a possibility -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: Economic sanctions likely to be on the agenda when the U.N. Security Council meets tonight. Exactly how much economic assistance, either in the form of aid or remittances, flows from Japan to North Korea?

SHUBERT: At the moment, there is really hardly any. There has been some discussion about really what kind of an impact economic sanctions would have on Japan. After all, as you know, it is a very isolated economy. It really relies more on China and South Korea than it does Japan.

So, by imposing economic sanctions, this would certainly be a -- be a legal and a political move. But how much impact it would have, we simply don't know. And that's really Japan's problem right now. It issues a strong protest. It's very concerned about these missile tests. But, ultimately, it has a very strained relationship with North Korea.

And if it wants to have any leverage at all over the Pyongyang government, it is really going to have to go through China and South Korea, the closer neighbors.

LU STOUT: But is there a fear in Japan that, if too much pressure is applied on North Korea, that North Korea could retaliate by some form of military action against Japan?

SHUBERT: While there may some concern about that, it has to be said that Japan has been taking a much harder line in recent years, not just because of this -- of these missile tests that have been conducted.

As you know, the first missile test in 1998 of the Taepodong-1 long-range missile actually flew over Japan, and that was serious cause for concern here. But, also, there are other issues the Japanese public is dealing with. The abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea throughout the '80s -- '70s and '80s, that has not been resolved.

And all of these issues have really hardened the public opinion here, that the government should take a hard line against North Korea. So, if anything, these missile tests, in fact, may just harden that position.

LU STOUT: And one last question for you before you go, Atika.

What does Tokyo believe is the intention behind these missile tests by North Korea? Is it for North Korea to get on TV, get attention, get back to talks, or to provoke its neighbors? SHUBERT: Well, that's the question everybody has been asking. And Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, in his press conference to reporters, said, frankly, that the Japanese government wants to know that exact question. They're looking into the reasons why North Korea launched these missile tests.

As you know, several analysts said that they believe North Korea has done this to get more attention, to try and take away attention from Iran's negotiations ongoing with the United States. We do know that North Korea has wanted to have direct bilateral talks with the United States. That obviously has not happened yet. And Japan stands by its ally the U.S., in saying that North Korea must return to the six-party talks before any bilateral negotiations come through.

LU STOUT: Atika Shubert, with the word from Tokyo, we thank you.

RIMINTON: You're watching "CNN Today" coming to you live from Hong Kong.

Let's get some more reaction around East Asia to this North Korean missile test in the last few hours. Now, China is North Korea's closest ally, and has been under pressure to push Pyongyang back to the negotiating table in recent months.

Joining us now is CNN's Beijing bureau chief, Jaime FlorCruz.

Now, Jaime, as one of the few friends in the world that North Korea has that has tried to warn Pyongyang not to take these missile tests, take that action, now the tests have happened, what is the reaction going to be there in Beijing?

JAIME FLORCRUZ, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Well, so far, no immediate reaction from the Chinese officials here, except a Foreign Ministry duty officer simply said that they're still waiting for more information to find out what is really going on.

However, the Chinese media has reported the -- the missile tests, and also have quoted a U.S. official as saying that this is a provocative action.

The Chinese officials have been trying to push the resumption of six-party talks for the past few weeks. The -- in fact, as late as yesterday, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jan Yu (ph), said that they're seeking ways to restart the process. They have been talking with the five other parties to find ways to restart the process.

They still hope that negotiations and dialogue will be the main effective way to resolve this crisis. They certainly don't -- do not want to see a military confrontation right in their neighborhood -- Hugh.

RIMINTON: Well, Jaime, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, says that talks have begun urgently with other U.N. Security Council members. That obviously includes China. China has a veto on the U.N. Security Council. So, what will the U.S., do you think, be looking for from China. What can China deliver, in terms of responding to this North Korean action?

FLORCRUZ: I think that the U.S. really wants China to play a more active role in putting pressure on North Korea.

After all, it is North Korea's main political ally. It's its main supplier of food and energy supplies. And it is also -- it has been traditionally very influential inside North Korea. The Chinese say that they're trying their best to use their leverage, but they -- their leverage should not be overestimated.

However, this is a good chance for China to show to the U.S. that they can be a responsible stakeholder in global affairs, and that the U.S. is hoping that the Chinese, through diplomatic channels, through any -- any more subtle means, but also perhaps by squeezing North Korea to bring them back to the negotiation table and resume the six- party talks -- Hugh.

RIMINTON: OK. Jaime FlorCruz, joins us from Beijing, thank you.

LU STOUT: Well, as we have noted, many analysts believe that these missile launches were mainly an effort to get Washington's attention.

As Mike Chinoy reports, they're also likely to have a lingering impact on politics in the U.S. and among North Korea's neighbors.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE CHINOY, CNN SENIOR ASIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Kim Jong Il, testing the limits, brinkmanship, is standard operating procedure. This latest missile test fits into that pattern.

But, as usual with North Korea, there is more speculation than hard fact about Kim's real motives. One view links the test to the crisis over Iran's nuclear program. Pyongyang has watched as the U.S. and the European Union have offered concessions to Tehran for simply suspending uranium enrichment.

These concessions have included acknowledging Iran's right to a civilian nuclear program, and even talk of providing proliferation- resistant light-water nuclear reactors. The North, in contrast, has been pressed by the U.S. to abandon its nuclear ambitions altogether, while Washington has been vague on the specifics of any concessions.

And the Bush administration shut down a project set up by the Clinton administration that would have given North Korea two light- water reactors. So, the test now, as was the case when North Korea tested its first missile eight years ago, could be a way of saying to the U.S.: We can cause trouble if we don't get better terms.

But, in political terms, the test may backfire. In Washington, it is likely to strengthen the hand of administration hard-liners opposed to any nuclear deal with the North. In Japan, it is likely to cause widespread anxiety and could influence the outcome of the race to succeed Prime Minister Koizumi in a few months, fueling support for a tougher line towards Pyongyang.

In South Korea, too, the test won't win Kim Jong Il any friends. But it places South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in a difficult spot. Roh has staked his political future on engaging North Korea. It is hard to imagine him abandoning that position, even after this test. Indeed, some observers believe Roh may feel compelled to redouble his efforts to deal with Kim's regime. That, in turn, could cause tension between South Korea and the United States, further weakening a security alliance already under strain because of the two governments' sharply differing approaches to handling North Korea.

And the test may anger China, the North's key backer, possibly prompting Beijing to intensify pressure on Kim Jong Il to return to the six-party talks on the nuclear issue, talks the North has boycotted for almost a year.

But North Korea always goes its own way, and the underlying message from the test may be that Kim Jong Il isn't going to bow to pressure from anyone, friend or adversary, and that North Korea, despite its internal problems, remains a power to be reckoned with.

Mike Chinoy, CNN, Hong Kong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIMINTON: A scramble to find the appropriate diplomatic response, after North Korea, in the last few hours, test-fired six missiles.

LU STOUT: After the break, we will get expert analysis on the intentions behind the missile launch from North Korea, as well as the reaction in South Korea.

You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RIMINTON: Welcome back. You're watching "CNN Today," coming to you live from Hong Kong.

The United Nations has now reacted to the series of missile launches in the last few hours by North Korea.

Joining us with more is our senior U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth.

Richard, almost immediately the U.N. involved after confirmation that these missiles came through. Where are they at the moment?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no official U.N. reaction. Right now, it is country to country to country, the U.S. and Japan talking to each other, talking to other members of the U.N. Security Council. There is still the possibility of a meeting of the Security Council tonight, New York times, Tuesday night, July 4, though, as the hours dwindle by, the prospect looms larger that the actual discussion will take place Wednesday morning, New York time.

Ambassador Bolton and others have strongly criticized North Korea's intentions, even before this launch indeed happened. It is really up to Japan whether there is a meeting tonight. Officials like to favor the country that sits on the council whose region is most affected. In this case, Japan had missiles land nearby. And, thus, it is up to Japan to determine whether it wants to push for a meeting tonight.

Diplomats are still scrambling to get accurate information regarding the number of missiles. The way the count is going, it seems that North Korea is launching enough to fill up the whole Security Council, 15, though, at best estimates, it is six missiles -- either way, bad news for North Korea, if it hoped to get a dialogue going. China and Russia are likely to bend a little bit more the U.S. way, though China would be highly reluctant to immediately back sanctions.

One diplomat said, we're not there yet.

First, you are going to probably see -- and this is my view -- that you are going to see a statement criticizing, critical, condemning the actions, and then the nitty-gritty, some of the harder diplomatic work, follows -- Hugh.

RIMINTON: Whenever North Korea does anything, the question always turns to, what is North Korea looking to get out of it? It is often a bit of a mystery to try to figure out what their thinking processes are. But, presumably, they have anticipated a U.N. Security Council reaction and -- and probably made a judgment as to whether China is going to support strong action in the U.N. Security Council.

So, what do you think is their thinking, looking at what the U.N. is likely to do?

ROTH: I think they're likely emboldened by what Iran has perhaps achieved, which is, at this point, the U.S. bending more and saying, we will talk to Iran if it follows the condition of suspending its uranium-enrichment program, but we will talk, which the U.S. had been holding out on.

North Korea definitely gets some encouragement from that. North Korea is desperate to be closer to the U.S., worried about future relations with China. And there is still no peace treaty after the Korean War. There is an armistice. And North Korea, for years, has been saying: We want direct talks with the U.S. We want to be a player.

Remember, North Korea kicked out International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, dropped out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, serious stuff. But there was no real U.N., global reaction. China was able to blunt perhaps deeper action by the Security Council. Now that stance will be tested. A Chinese official in New York said: We are going to be cautious at first. We want to see what is going on.

But Beijing is not likely to be happy by perhaps six missiles going off in the region, one of them perhaps of the intercontinental ballistic kind.

RIMINTON: Certainly, it's all back in their laps at the moment.

Richard Roth, thanks very much for joining us from the U.N.

LU STOUT: Well, again, North Korea has rattled the world after test-firing what is believed to be six missiles.

For the reaction in the United States, let's cross to John King, who joins us now from Washington, D.C.

And, John, what kind of options is the United States considering right now, after these series of launches?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristie, this presents the president for the United States with quite an interesting dilemma.

Already, there were some in the administration, prior to today's dramatic events, trying to push the administration to be more open to a softer approach, to be more open to more carrots, if you will, to try to encourage North Korea to come back to those six-party talks by sending signals through China and others that, if it did come back, the United States was prepared to put more incentives on the table.

This is an administration that could very much use an international policy victory right now. You heard Richard Roth just talking about the showdown with Iran. The war with Iraq is obviously quite unpopular in the United States in this election year.

But this is a president who has a Texas reflex, if you will. And he's unlikely to respond to this provocation today by, in the short term, anyway, putting any new incentives on the table. And, in fact, what the White House did, sending Chris Hill over to Asia to consult allies, leaving it to the national security adviser to brief reporters at the White House, no official statement from the president himself, is a clear signal by the White House that Kim Jong Il may try to rattle the world; the president of the United States is going to go about his business.

But it will be interesting to watch, over the next several days, whether there is any indication, in an effort to get North Korea back to the bargaining table, is the United States, even in the face of this provocation, willing to be a little bit more open about what it is going to put on the table?

LU STOUT: All right, John King, joining us from Washington, many thanks, indeed.

Again, you're watching CNN. We're giving you global reaction to what has been happening to a series of missile tests done by North Korea, reaction from the United States just now, the U.N. We will also go back to our correspondents across the region here in Asia.

RIMINTON: The U.S. calling it a provocation, but not a threat -- but much more still to be said about this.

You're watching "CNN Today" -- back with more in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PILGRIM, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Kitty Pilgrim in New York. The U.S. and its allies tonight are strongly condemning North Korea for its surprise missile test today. Within the past hour, military sources confirm North Korea launched a total of six missiles including at least one long range missile with potential of reaching the United States.

The Bush administration calls tests a provocative act but the administration said they do not pose an immediate threat to the United States. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been following these new developments for us tonight and she is live now with the very latest. Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Kitty, good evening to you. The U.S. military at this hour is continuing to monitor the situation all the way in NORAD headquarters in Colorado out to the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii. Military officials are now confirming six missile launches, one long range Taepodong II missile launched by North Korea, five shorter range Scud variants launched by North Korea, all of them falling into the Sea of Japan according to the U.S. military.

Officials confirming through their satellites and other intelligence they saw all six launches. They watched them as they unfolded. They were able to quickly determine they were not a threat to the United States or its territories. And therefore there was no reason to launch one of the U.S.'s own interceptor missiles based in Alaska and California. No reason to launch any of those in return.

But indeed, Kitty, the Pentagon confirming those interceptors, those missiles that the U.S. has that could try and shoot down the North Korean missile, all of them were operational today during the North Korean launches. The U.S. military was ready to go, could have tried to shoot down the North Korean missiles if the president had given such an order. But at the end of the day, that wasn't necessary, five of them short range, went into the Sea of Japan and that long range missile that was of such concern basically failed within 30 to 40 seconds of launch and fell into the Japan as well. Kitty?

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Barbara Starr, thanks a lot, Barbara.

Now joining me again is Gordon Chang. He is the author of "Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World." And Gordon, let's take a look at what Stephen Hadley, the national security advisor, said this afternoon. He said launching the missiles is a "provocative behavior" and he says "we can now examine what the launches tell us about the intentions of North Korea."

One of the thing I want to ask you is, you know why today. It is very significant day for the United States. Is there any significance to them picking this day to do it?

CHANG: Well, July Fourth is an important day. We also got to remember that this launch follows closely on the heels of Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi's very successful summit with President Bush. Now, China cop stopped this launch. Because it supplies something like 90 percent of the fuel and 45 percent of the food to North Korea and it didn't want to do it. I think that China was basically saying, OK, President Bush, you can have good relations with Japan but you really need us, Beijing. So there is an implied message there.

PILGRIM: There have been high level contacts between Pyongyang and China in recent days, have there not?

CHANG: There certainly have been. For the last three weeks or so, and including this last week, there have been a number of high level contacts. Especially military ones between the Chinese and the North Koreans. So some of us may believe in coincidence but I certainly don't. The Chinese knew -- or at least had a very good inkling this was going to happen and it was going to happen this weekend.

PILGRIM: Certainly all eyes were on North Korea as the tension was building up over the preparations for this missile. The entire international community was aware that this was happening. And so you see no efforts to deter North Korea or it implies that there are not.

CHANG: On the part of the Chinese?

PILGRIM: Yeah.

CHANG: I think that maybe the Chinese at first told them to cool it. But eventually I think Beijing said either it couldn't stop it or tried to exploit it. I'm not saying China created this opportunity but I think one of the things it did try to do is get some advantage from it.

PILGRIM: Interesting perspective, thanks very much, Gordon Chang. And stay with CNN for continuing coverage of this breaking news story. LARRY KING LIVE is coming up at 9:00 p.m. Eastern with a full hour on the North Korean missile crisis. And after the short break, our coverage will continue with CNN International.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RIMINGTON: You're watching CNN TODAY coming to you live from Hong Kong. Welcome back to our continuing coverage of North Korea's missile launch. I'm Hugh Rimington. LU STOUT: And I'm Kristie Lu Stout and we would like to welcome the audience joining us at our sister network CNN USA. More now on our top story. North Korea's test launch of at least six missiles including one long range missile.

RIMINTON: Let's get a look at how developments are being received. In South Korea, Sohn Jie-Ae joining us by broadband from Seoul. In South Korea, obviously, they have been anticipating this for some weeks. What is the reaction today now that it happened?

SOHN JIE-AE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, South Koreans are looking at it with very cautious eyes. Although they have not set forth an official position, just until a short while ago, ministers of the National Security Council have been huddled together to come out with an official position.

They have finished their meeting but they are drafting their official proposal and we should get it very soon. But what is expected is that in South Korea is expected to condemn North Korea for test firing its missiles. But it is also expected to urge caution in the region. South Korea's very concerned about rising tensions here that could adversely affect South Korea. South Korea's stock market is already feeling the concern of the investors about the increase of tensions here.

So South Korea will do all it can to ease concerns about rising tensions here, Hugh.

STOUT: Now, Jie-Ae, Kristie here in Hong Kong. Six party talks have been stalled for about a year now. But when they were happening, all along South Korea had more of a conciliatory tone towards its northern neighbor. Do you think with this missile test, is that tone likely to change?

JIE-AE: Well, it is probably not going to change completely but it will make maintaining that tone very difficult. South Korean officials have been asked whether if north -- before if North Korea tested its missile that South Korea was prepared to go more hard line whether it was prepared to join sanction efforts against North Korea if there were any.

South Korea did not come forward with an official position but South Korean officials did say that they could not stand by and pretend North Korea did nothing wrong if North Korea test fired its missile. So there could be some repercussions in terms of South Korea not providing as much rice or fertilizer aid to North Korea. But we'll have to see exactly what position the South Korean government takes, Kristie.

STOUT: So perhaps not providing as much rice or aid to North Korea as before but still providing economic aid to its northern neighbor. During handling of the North Korean crisis there seems to be a divide particularly between the United States and South Korea and how they regard what is the best way to engage and handle North Korea.

So you think there is a likelihood here that if South Korea continues its tone of reconciliation and if the United States takes a more hard-line approach, that there will be a growing divide between the allies, the U.S. and South Korea?

JIE-AE: Well, officially the South Korean officials have said that there is no divide between the United States and South Korea. That what seems to be a divide and what seems to be a difference in approaching the North Koreans and North Korean missile threat comes from the fact that South Korea borders North Korea and South Korea has as much more to lose if North Korea's provoked into doing anything militarily. And that this position is clearly understood by Washington and therefore while there is a difference in opinion, it is not so much a difference that will be -- that will be not understood by either party.

But nevertheless, because of this difference in position, if you could say, between the United States and South Korea, at some point down the line, if push comes to shove, and South Korea is forced to make a decision on whether to join the international community in sanctioning North Korea or not, South Korea is expected to have a very difficult decision on its hands, Kristie.

STOUT: Interesting scenario. Sohn Jie-Ae joining us from Seoul, many thanks indeed.

RIMINTON: Well, let's get some more analysis now on the security and military implications of the North Korean test firings. From Washington, we're joined now by CNN security advisor John McLaughlin, he is also a former deputy director of the CIA. And also John Falkenrath (sic), a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution.

John McLaughlin, if I can start with you, on one level it could be argued that what North Korea has demonstrated is that it is still pretty primitive in its capacity to get a long range missile up and going. It failed.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE CIA: I'm sure that wasn't their intention. We have to assume that this test was intended to succeed and had it succeeded we would be of course talking about this in very different terms. Had it come close to matching what they did in 1998 with the Taepodong-1 missile which was to launch separate stages at altitude, ignite the second stage at altitude and send it downrange, they probably would have succeeded in what is their main goal here which is to demonstrate that they're an impressive military power.

Of course, it did not succeed and I would suspect that this is not only embarrassing in Pyongyang, but I would guess there will be some repercussions either one way or another within that society.

RIMINTON: Do you think that looking at it from a military analysis point of view that in the United States there might be some sense of relief that the worst fears about North Korean capacities might not yet be realized?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, there may be. On the other hand, I think we -- you're not likely to see complacency on the part of the United States here because the North Koreans, despite the failure of this launch are quite sophisticated in missiles. They -- their Nodong missile was probably the most frequently exported and influential medium range missile in any nation's arsenal in terms of proliferation.

So yes, there will some relief here that this launch failed. But it is also true that they will learn from this launch and they will take the lessons from it and probably try again at some point. That's probably the balance of things.

RIMINTON: Richard Falkenrath, if I can bring you in, Richard Falkenrath from the Brookings Institution, what now does the United States do? What can it do?

RICHARD FALKENRATH, BROOKINGST INSTITUTION: Well, I don't think the president -- President Bush wants a crisis in the Korean Peninsula now. They'll try to downplay the issue, be very calm and measured try to maintain international unity in dealing with North Korea. Remind the American people that we have been deploying missile defense systems for the last five years, remind the American people that the test failed and use this event as another opportunity to teach in a way the international community this country is a threat, it's dangerous, it's terrible to its people, and threatens its neighbors and other countries that receive missiles that it exported in the past.

RIMINTON: On this program, just in the last hour, Sandy Berger, former national security adviser to the Clinton administration said the appropriate reaction here in time is for the United States to deal more directly with North Korea. Essentially to give them what they want on a certain level, direct negotiations. Richard Falkenrath, do you think that is a wise course to look at?

FALKENRATH: The Bush administration does not agree with that. I personally do not agree with that either. I think you lose the leverage you have in principle right now with South Korea and China involved in the six party talks on the nuclear side. The United States really doesn't have a lot of leverage with North Korea at the moment. There is not a lot of trade, there is no diplomatic ties, really nothing we can do or say that causes cost or benefits for them.

That's not the case for China and South Korea. They have the ability to pressure North Korea in significant ways. And so that's the logic that really tries to keep them at the table.

In addition, if something goes wrong on the Korean Peninsula, the United States wants to make sure the world knows the world was working on this problem in unison. Not that the U.S. was working on it unilaterally. This is an international problem if there is a failure in North Korea. Not just a unilateral or bilateral problem.

RIMINTON: How frustrating do you think it is for the United States and if it is trying to act in a certain way through China and South Korea that neither really seems to want to put the real squeeze on to North Korea on this one? John McLaughlin? MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think everyone faces certain constraints in trying to deal with this through pressure. And I suspect all sides will in the end decide that while some harsh rhetoric may be in order, at the end of the day, diplomacy is probably still the best way to go. For the South Koreans, they will be extraordinarily cautious in reacting to this because they have a lot to lose either way. If the North Koreans were provoked into a further military attack, of course, South Korea would be the principle loser.

And on the other hand, if the international community agreed on a suite of sanctions which puts significant pressure on this rather fragile society in the North, and were it to implode, South Korea again would be the loser in that you would have streams of refugees, you might have a North Korea that would lash out with some irrational military act. And these are -- and ultimately South Korea and those circumstances might have to deal before it chooses to do so with the issue of unification of that peninsula which would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

So you're dealing here with a fragile society that in many respects is a powder keg. I think we're going to see the toughest reaction from Japan. This missile -- one or two of these missiles flew over Japan and when that happened in 1998, the Japanese were so concerned that they inaugurated a program to build imagery satellites so they would have an independent warning capability of North Korean developments.

And they are probably the ones who are going to react most harshly to this. The Chinese on the other hand face a very difficult dilemma as well. The last thing they want is a lot of turmoil in the area, the last thing they want is for Japan to be so alarmed that Japan begins to take military actions that would be of concern to China.

So there is going to be quite a delicate diplomatic dance here as everyone tries to figure out the right mix of sanctions, diplomacy, pressure, to respond to this.

RIMINTON: And everyone hoping this time they might get it -- the measure just right. John McLaughlin, thanks very much for joining us. Richard Falkenrath, again, thanks very much for joining us on the program.

STOUT: Well, intelligence analysts are no doubt pouring over data from North Korea's missile launches. They can glean a lot about the missile's capabilities. But Pyongyang's motive for the launches remains obscure. CNN's Brian Todd examines the psychology behind the launches.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before the missile test, Kim Jong-Il appeared to have some leverage. Analysts said he may have been using the tension generated by the buildup to get economic concessions from China, Russia, possibly even the U.S. With that now in jeopardy, experts believe Kim had several possible motivations to launch the test. One, simply to see what he had in his arsenal.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: The benefits of launching sooner rather than later are you get test data on this long range missile.

TODD: Even with the apparent technical failure of the missile, experts believe kim may have wanted to send a signal to the world and his own people that his military capability is growing. And that his hold on power is solid.

MCLAUGHLIN: Kim Jong-Il does not have the authority his father did. Kim Il-Sung. An action like this, may be one way he's trying to establish that authority and impress those around him that he's just as tough as his father was.

TODD: Another point, to steal some of the world's attention back.

PIKE: He fancies himself the world leader of the anti- imperialist struggle. I would say over the last six or eight months, Mr. Ahmadinejad in Iran has been getting a lot of headlines. Mr. Chavez down in Venezuela gets a lot of headlines. Nobody has paying much attention until recently to Kim Jong-Il and he's like everybody else. He likes to get on TV.

TODD (on camera): Kim is also likely not intimidated by the possibility now of further sanctions according to experts. His country is already isolated. His people already starving. And one analyst says in the end, he probably doesn't believe his best ally, China, will let North Korea fall completely apart. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STOUT: More on the North Korean missile tests after this short break. You're watching CNN TODAY.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RIMINTON: Live from Hong Kong, welcome back. You're watching CNN TODAY.

STOUT: Gorgeous Wednesday morning here in Hong Kong. Let's update you now on our top story this morning. Again, North Korea has rattled the world with a series of missile tests believed to be six in all.

For some extra analysis let's turn to Dong-Bok Lee. He is a North Korean expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and he joins us on the phone now from Seoul. Mr. Lee, welcome to the program. North Korea has launched six missiles in all. One a long range Taepodong-2 missile. The missile test failed, ended up in the Sea of Japan 40 seconds just after launch. It is believed to be theoretically capable of reaching the United States. Just how significant is this launch of this missile?

DONG-BOK LEE, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, you talk about six missiles, but we hear here about ten missiles which have been test fired this morning. Of which -- they're a combination of short, medium range and long range missiles. Of which the third one as is said was the long range version. That failed.

Because of it, when North Korea is believed to have undertaken this test fighting for more or less -- for more likely for political purposes. Blackmailing the international community into make some concessions to their liking. The failure of this long range missile to me appears to have -- to be ending up in a failure on the North Korean part to achieve whatever aims that it had.

STOUT: Now, the missile test as you said just now in South Korea, being reported that 10 missiles have been tested. But so far we are just following our number of at least six.

LEE: OK.

STOUT: The -- even though technologically they failed, they landed in the Sea of Japan, on a political level, have they succeeded, he is on international television, he has garnered global attention. What is Kim Jong-Il going to do with this attention next?

LEE: Well, one likelihood is that there will come out public to say it was a success as they did in 1998. And I don't think they're going to -- to say that it was a failure.

STOUT: So Mr. Lee, are you suggesting that maybe one motivation behind this missile test is for Kim Jong-Il to go back home, domestically lift his own profile and tell the people of North Korea we have succeed with these missile tests.

LEE: Well, he will also speak to the international community as well saying that was a success.

STOUT: Mr. Dong-Bok Lee, unfortunately we are going to have to wrap it up there. But many thanks indeed for joining us on the program. Dong-Bok Lee, a North Korean expert joining us from Seoul.

RIMINTON: They're saying in Seoul 10 missiles we're reporting. We're saying six at the moment. We're staying across it though.

Now, for all the attention he is getting, Kim Jong-Il remains one of the most mysterious leaders in the world. CNN's Zain Verjee has a look now at what we do know and what we don't know about North Korea's leader.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER MAASS, "NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE": He's not crazy. He might be emotional, he might be somewhat eccentric but crazy, absolutely not.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Indeed, Kim Jong-Il persona may be carefully cultivated. As supreme leader of an impoverished country, he has little to bargain with on the international stage and his reputation may work to his advantage. But behind it, there is by all accounts a shrewd dictator.

MAASS: Really everybody who has met with Kim Jong-Il and there have been quite a few South Koreans, American, Russians, North Koreans who have since defected, they all come out saying this man knows what he's doing.

VERJEE: Kim Jong-Il inherited the role of absolute ruler from his father, Kim Il-Sung who died in 1994. The elder Kim dubbed himself Great Leader and the younger followed suit, he's known as Dear Leader. He's believed to have been born in the Soviet Union in 1941 or '42. But his birthplace is often listed instead as a mountain famous in Korean mythology.

He's thought to have been married three times although it is not clear if all were official. And he's known to have three sons and at least one daughter.

Rather short in stature, he's rumored to wear platform shoes. He nonetheless had a reputation as a hard partying playboy as a young man and reportedly still has an eye for the ladies.

JERROLD POST, FORMER CIA PROFILER: He recruits at junior high school level attractive young girls with clear complexions and pretty faces to be enrolled in his Joy Brigades and the Joy Brigades function is to provide rest and relaxation for his hard work, senior officials.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RIMINTON: That was Zain Verjee with that report. So then after weeks of international warnings not to do it, North Korea has carried out test launches of several missiles in the last few hours.

STOUT: Ahead on CNN today, we'll continue updating you on our top story with guests and analysis and look at the possible repercussions of Pyongyang's move. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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