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UK: No evidence of imminent North Korean missile launch: Britain

By Robin Millard
Sat Jul 4 01:23:00 EST 2009

LONDON, July 3 AFP - Britain's ambassador to Pyongyang says there's currently no evidence that North Korea is preparing to launch a long-range missile, after it test-fired four short-range ones.

Speaking from the North Korean capital, Peter Hughes, one of the few ambassadors in Pyongyang, said on Friday the hardline communist state believes it needs a nuclear capability to survive.

"The North Korean people do not know about these launches," Hughes told reporters at the Foreign Office in London, via video link.

"We have seen no evidence as yet to state that there will be a launch in the the next couple of days of an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile)."

However, he added: "The thing about North Korea is it's unpredictability. You cannot say it will never do something."

Hughes also warned that a repeat of May's underground nuclear test remains a possibility.

"We cannot rule out that a further nuclear test will take place," he said.

North Korea's missile launches on Thursday fuelled tensions with the international community following the nuclear test.

"Some think it's an attempt to attract the attention of Washington and for the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) to strengthen its hand before returning to negotiations," Hughes said.

"Others believe that the DPRK leader Kim Jong-Il is reasserting his power after suffering a stroke last year and could be paving a way for a successor.

"The strong impression we get here in Pyongyang is that the DPRK has concluded that it needs a nuclear capability to survive in what it claims to be a region that is hostile to it.

"There is no willingness on their (Pyongyang's) part to re-enter negotiations."

The ambassador said North Korean people are aware of the nuclear test and are being told that the United States and its allies are "intensifying the threat against DPRK".

"The Korean people believe this but at the same time they do not think they are about to go to war."

On a possible successor to Kim Jong-Il, he said the embassy is "doing some planning", though North Koreans are unaware of the situation on a successor.

Hughes said he tries to get out of Pyongyang to speak to Koreans around the DPRK but is closely monitored.

"I am free to talk. The problem is who is willing to talk to me," he added.