Australian FM stands by North Korea missile claim

By Rod McGuirk CANBERRA, Australia, AP

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer reasserted his claim that North Korea has long-range missiles capable of striking Australia as he departed Sunday on a diplomatic mission to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programs.

On Friday, Downer said the reclusive Stalinist state had missiles that could fly the 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) from North Korea to Sydney — although missile experts have rejected this claim as impossible.

On Sunday he said North Korea developed a number of Taepo Dong 2 long-range missiles before freezing the program in 1999.

“We believe they have built some prototypes of this missile,” Downer told Nine Network television before leaving for Pyongyang. “Nobody’s suggesting North Korea is about to attack Sydney. It’s an illustration of the range of the missile systems.”

Downer said that aid to North Korea was contingent on Pyongyang showing signs that it was ending its nuclear weapons development programs.

“The North Koreans understand that the dismantling of their nuclear programs is a prerequisite for getting additional financial assistance, additional food aid but, over and above that, getting the sort of security guarantee that North Korea’s after,” Downer said.

North Korea wants the West to send energy aid and lift economic sanctions.

During multinational talks in Beijing in June, the United States proposed a step-by-step plan for Pyongyang to dismantle and allow monitoring of all its nuclear activities in return for some aid.

Australia was not involved in those talks, but it is a close ally of the United States and maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea.