TOKYO (AP) – A defiant North Korea test-fired a long-range missile Wednesday that may be capable of reaching America, but it failed seconds after launch, officials said.

The North also tested five shorter range missiles.

Ignoring stern U.S. and Japanese warnings, the isolated communist nation carried out the audacious military tests even as the U.S. celebrated the Fourth of July and launched the space shuttle.

None of the missiles made it as far as Japan, all crashing into the Sea of Japan separating the island from the Korean Peninsula, officials said.

Both Japan and South Korea protested. Japan called for an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting. South Korea said the tests would further deepen its neighbor’s international isolation.

“We will take stern measures,” said chief Japanese government spokesman Shinzo Abe, adding that economic sanctions were a possibility. He said the launch violated a longstanding moratorium, and that Tokyo was not given prior notification by Pyongyang.

The U.S. administration reacted quickly but made it clear that its response would not involve military action.

President Bush consulted with Hadley, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The State Department said Rice conferred with her counterparts from China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

“It wasn’t that he (the president) was surprised because we’ve seen this coming for a while,” Hadley said. “I think his instinct is that this just shows the defiance of the international community by North Korea.”

He said the long-range missile was the Taepodong-2, which failed 35 seconds after launch. Experts believe the missile – North Korea’s most advanced with a range of up to 9,320 miles – could reach the United States with a light payload.

The State Department said the smaller missiles includes Scuds, which could target South Korea, and Rodongs, which has a range of about 620 miles and could target Japan.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported as many as 10 missiles may have been launched, but officials could not confirm that.

The launch came after weeks of speculation that the North was preparing to test the Taepodong-2 from a site on its northeast coast. U.S. and Japanese officials said six missiles were fired in all, launched over a four-hour period beginning about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday (2:30 p.m. Tuesday EDT).

Meanwhile, the North American Aerospace Defense Command – which monitors the skies for threats to North American security – went on heightened alert, said NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek.

“The safety of our people and resources is our top priority,” Kucharek said.

If the timing is correct, the North Korean missiles were launched within minutes of Tuesday’s liftoff of Discovery, which blasted into orbit from Cape Canaveral in the first U.S. space shuttle launch in a year.

Hadley suggested the tests might have been an attempt to grab the international spotlight.

“It’s very difficult to know what the North Koreans think they are doing this for,” Hadley said. “Obviously, it is a bit of an effort to get attention, perhaps because so much attention has been focused on the Iranians.”

North Korea’s missile program is based on Scud technology provided by the former Soviet Union or Egypt, according to American and South Korean officials. North Korea started its Rodong-1 missile project in the late 1980s and test-fired the missile for the first time in 1993.

North Korea had observed a moratorium on long-range missile launches since 1999. It shocked the world in 1998 by firing a Taepodong missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.

On Monday, the North’s main news agency quoted an unidentified newspaper analyst as saying Pyongyang was prepared to answer a U.S. military attack with “a relentless annihilating strike and a nuclear war.”

The Bush administration responded by saying while it had no intention of attacking, it was determined to protect the United States if North Korea launched a long-range missile.

On Monday, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns warned North Korea against firing the missile and urged the communist country to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear program.

The six-party talks, suspended by North Korea, involved negotiations by the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia with Pyongyang over the country’s nuclear program.

The United States and its allies South Korea and Japan have taken quick steps over the past week to strengthen their missile defenses. Washington and Tokyo are working on a joint missile-defense shield, and South Korea is considering the purchase of American SM-2 defensive missiles for its destroyers.

The U.S. and North Korea have been in a standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program since 2002. The North claims to have produced nuclear weapons, but that claim has not been publicly verified by outside analysts.

While public information on North Korea’s military capabilities is murky, experts doubt that the regime has managed to develop a nuclear warhead small enough to mount on its long-range missiles.

Nonetheless, Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told U.S. lawmakers last week that officials took the potential launch reports seriously and were looking at the full range of capabilities possessed by North Korea.



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