The commander of US troops in Japan yesterday said that the situation ahead of North Korea’s planned launch of a long-range rocket this month is “very dangerous.”
Lieutenant General Salvatore Angelella said US troops in Japan were closely monitoring activity in North Korea as it prepares for the launch. He said the US sees the launch as a violation of UN restrictions in place to keep North Korea from developing its long-range missile capabilities.
“This is a very dangerous situation, and we do not support those actions by North Korea ... We are monitoring the situation closely,” Angelella, who commands the roughly 50,000 US troops in Japan, said at a news conference in Tokyo.
He said US troops were working closely with the Japanese to protect the country’s citizens and territory, but declined to give details. Two US officials said on Wednesday that the Navy had begun moving several ships into the western Pacific.
Japan yesterday also dispatched three destroyers to waters over which North Korea says its satellite-bearing rocket will travel.
Television footage showed three Aegis destroyers armed with SM-3 missile interceptors leaving their base in Sasebo, about 900km west of Tokyo. They were reportedly bound for the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan, a stretch of water known to Koreans as the East Sea.
Separately, a naval ship carrying Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) ballistic missiles arrived in the Okinawan island of Miyakojima yesterday morning.
Television footage showed Japan Self-Defence Force units unloading the missiles from the vessel at a harbor on the island, which lies on the expected flight path of the rocket.
In Tokyo, the Japanese Ministry of Defense has deployed another PAC-3 battery at its headquarters as part of its effort to intercept anything headed toward the Japanese mainland.
The Japanese Cabinet plans to hold a security meeting today to issue an advance order to shoot down the rocket if it looks set to fall on Japanese territory, Jiji Press reported.
Immediate confirmation of the reports was not available.
North Korea has announced it will launch the rocket between Monday and Dec. 22. It attempted a similar launch in April, but it failed shortly after liftoff.
In related news, a Japanese man who served as a chef to the North Korean leadership and visited the country earlier this year said the planned rocket launch was meant to honor the late leader Kim Jong-il.
Kenji Fujimoto, Kim’s personal sushi chef from 1988 to 2001, said he believed the late leader’s son and successor, Kim Jong-un, was backing the launch to show respect for his father.
“I don’t think that Kim Jong-un is taking a very aggressive role in pushing for this launch, but he might want to commemorate his father’s passing,” said Fujimoto, who uses a pseudonym.
He said that despite its apparent determination to defy international appeals against the rocket launch, he believes North Korea is changing for the better and wants to improve relations with the West.
Fujimoto settled in Japan after leaving the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, and has written several memoirs. The latest is about a visit to North Korea for several weeks last summer. That trip was meant to fulfill a promise he had made to the younger Kim before he left, he says.