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Japanese government considers intercepting North Korean rocket if it flies near Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun –

TOKYO — Believing that North Korea is highly likely to launch a “satellite” as previously announced, the Japanese government has started considering intercepting the rocket if it flies toward Japan, according to government officials.

If this were to occur, the government would be expected to issue a shoot-down order to the Self-Defense Forces based on the Self-Defense Forces Law.

North Korea said Friday that it will launch a “rocket” mounted with an earth observation satellite in mid-April.

The government plans to demand North Korea cancel the satellite launch plan, in cooperation with the United States, South Korea and China, concluding that the launch would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution.

“We’ll strongly seek self-restraint” from North Korea, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said during his meeting Friday with Laos Prime Minister Thogsing Thammavong.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba also told reporters the same day at the Foreign Ministry that Japan had held talks with the United States, South Korea and China on the issue.

“We share the common goal (of seeking North Korea’s self-restraint),” he said.

The timing of North Korea’s announcement came as a “surprise” to the Japanese government, one government official said.

Many government officials had believed North Korea would not take provocative actions for the time being, given that the country had agreed with the United States in February to implement a moratorium on its uranium-enrichment activities and long-range missile launches in exchange for U.S. food aid, according to sources.

At an emergency meeting of senior officials Friday evening, the Defense Ministry acknowledged it would cooperate with U.S. forces to carefully analyze the launch pad and keep a close eye on activities around the expected launch site through satellites and other means.

“I instructed (ministry officials) to thoroughly conduct information gathering and surveillance activities,” Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka said at the House of Representatives Security Committee.

When North Korea launched a ballistic missile in April 2009, it informed the International Maritime Organization in advance that it would set danger zones in the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean.

At that time, the Japanese and U.S. governments prepared themselves for the launch with the U.S. forces’ early warning satellites and the Defense Ministry’s warning and control radars. They also deployed Aegis-equipped destroyers in the Sea of Japan and the Air Self-Defense Force’s early-warning aircraft.

This time, the Japanese and U.S. governments are expected to prepare in a similar manner, according to officials.

North Korea announced the “satellite” will be launched southward from a launching station in Cholsan County, likely over open waters of the Yellow Sea and not into the Sea of Japan.

The Japanese government will nevertheless consider issuing the shoot-down order as a precautionary measure.

“We never know whether the satellite will really fly toward the Yellow Sea. In addition, some of Japan’s remote islands are in the area,” a Defense Ministry official said.

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