N. Korea test-fires missile for second time in 2 weeks


TOKYO - Japan and South Korea responded calmly yesterday after North Korea test-fired a second anti-ship missile in as many weeks into the Sea of Japan, in what appeared to be another attempt to rattle the United States into negotiating with Pyongyang over its nuclear ambitions.

"It would not be wise to overreact," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told the nation's parliament after the missile test.

A South Korean defense official said the missile was launched at 11:51 a.m. local time and fell into the sea 68 miles from the launch site on North Korea's east coast. The official said the weapon was short range and emphasized that it did not pose an immediate threat to regional security.

The firing was less provocative than other recent actions taken by the isolated regime in Pyongyang. On March 2, four North Korean MiG fighter jets buzzed a U.S. spy plane in international airspace over the Sea of Japan. The United States, meanwhile, has deployed B-1 and B-52 bombers to the Pacific island of Guam to deter further hostile acts by North Korea.

"There was really nothing special about this test, and it does not present any new security issues," said a senior official of the Japanese Defense Agency, who asked not to be identified.

The North Koreans had signaled late last week that they would launch another missile, notifying mariners to avoid the area between March 8 and 11. Two weeks ago, a similar test on the eve of South Korea's presidential inauguration briefly overshadowed the swearing in of President Roh Moo Hyun, but both Washington and Seoul have sought to play down the significance of the tests.

North Korea insists on holding face-to-face talks with Washington to secure a nonaggression pact and economic assistance in exchange for an agreement to end its nuclear programs. The Bush administration insists that only a regional discussion involving China, Russia, Japan and South Korea as well as the United States can bring sufficient force to bear to make Pyongyang live up to any agreement it makes.

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