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LEAD: U.S. activates missile defense, may intercept N. Korea missile+
[June 20, 2006]

LEAD: U.S. activates missile defense, may intercept N. Korea missile+


(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) WASHINGTON, June 20_(Kyodo) _ (EDS: ADDING INFO)

The United States has moved its ground-based missile defense system from test to operational mode and is considering the option of intercepting North Korea's long-range missile if launched, the Washington Times reported Tuesday.

Quoting U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity, the newspaper said the system was activated within the past two weeks in the wake of North Korea stepping up preparations for launching a Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile.

Reuters and other media reported U.S. officials as confirming the Washington Times report.

The missile shield includes 11 long-range interceptor missiles, including nine deployed at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and two at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the Washington Times said.

Two U.S. Navy Aegis warships are patrolling near North Korea as part of the global missile defense system and would be among the first sensors that would trigger the use of interceptors, the newspapers said.

One senior administration official was quoted as telling the Washington Times that the U.S. government is considering the option of shooting down the Taepodong missile with responding interceptors.

The officials said an immediate launch is unlikely because of poor weather conditions above North Korea's missile site located by U.S. intelligence satellites, according to the newspaper.

But it also quoted U.S. intelligence officials as saying preparations have advanced to the point where a launch could take place within "several days to a month."

U.S. Northern Command spokesman Michael Kucharek was reported as saying that the command "continues to monitor the situation, and we are prepared to defend the country in any way necessary."

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