North Korea vows to shoot down US spy planes, upping threats

Pyongyang had previously warned others not to shoot down a rocket it says it will launch between April 4 and April 8.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREANorth Korea has a warning for US spy planes: Stop circling the site of the missile the North is planning to launch.

“Should US warplanes dare to perpetrate aerial espionage,” North Korea’s state radio warned Wednesday, “our revolutionary forces will shoot them down.” Spy flights, the broadcast made plain, “would be interfering with our preparations for a satellite launch for peaceful purposes.”

The warning reflects North Korea’s insistence that the long-range missile on the launch pad near the northeastern coast will put a satellite into orbit.

But American, South Korean, and Japanese officials say that the real purpose is to test the missile’s ability to deliver a nuclear warhead as far as Alaska or Hawaii.

North Korea accuses the US and South Korea of conducting at least 190 aerial espionage flights over it territory last month. While the number may be exaggerated, experts say such flights are routine.

“North Korea is very sensitive to them,” says Choi Jin-wook, senior research fellow at the Korea Institute of National Unification. By "warning they might fire, they are showing their anger.”

It’s equally possible, however, that the strong terms North Korea is using to denounce the spy flights may be a rhetorical display, full of sound and fury, not signifying very much.

“North Korea wants to escalate tensions,” says Mr. Choi. “Their aims are not purely military. They are also political.”

North Korea has stated its intention of launching what it says will be a communications satellite some time between April 4 and April 8.

South Korea’s defense minister, Lee Sang-hee, sees little difference between the launch of a missile and a missile that’s a booster for a satellite.

“The technology is the same,” Defense Minister Lee said Wednesday. “They are equally threats to the Korean peninsula and our surrounding region.”

The US, Japan, and South Korea have all warned North Korea against firing the missile/satellite and have vowed to raise the issue in the UN Security Council if North Korea follows through on the plan.

North Korea has said such a response will mean the end of six-party talks on its nuclear program. The talks were last held in December.

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