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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Seoul Gets New Leader, North Tests Missile

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Hours after North Korea test fired a missile into the sea near Japan, the communist regime's No. 2 leader Tuesday tried to assure a summit of worried developing world leaders that Pyongyang is not developing nuclear weapons "at this stage."

The North conducted its surprise anti-ship missile launch just before South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-hyun, was inaugurated in Seoul in the presence of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, in Asia to garner support for Washington's stand on the nuclear crisis.

High-ranking delegates at a meeting of the 116-nation Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur said they were puzzled by the timing and nature of the provocative test, which followed their calls for a negotiated end to the dispute.

Later, Kim Yong Nam told the conference that the North's "nuclear activities at this stage would be confined only to the peaceful purposes," despite its withdrawal from a nuclear arms-control treaty in January.

South Korea said it believed the missile was a small, conventional one.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, the summit host, downplayed the test.

"Just because they test missiles doesn't mean they are declaring war," Mahathir told a summit-closing news conference. "Other countries test missiles."

But Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said the action was "another addition to uncertainty. It will further aggravate the economic slowdown."

China, North Korea's chief ally and a summit observer, called for a restrained response.

"All the relevant sides should keep themselves restrained instead of conducting any provocative actions that will lead to conflicts at a higher level," Deputy Foreign Minister Wang Guangya said at the summit venue in Kuala Lumpur.

Charles Twining, Washington's observer at the meeting, called the timing of the missile test "very strange."

"It just makes it even clearer that something has to be done to persuade North Korea by diplomatic means to work with the international community," he said.

Indonesia has attempted to mediate the crisis between Pyongyang, Washington and Seoul.

"The firing of the missile certainly complicates the problem," Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said. "That's not the words of dialogue. We're puzzled."

A North Korean diplomat who declined to give his name said he had not heard about the missile launch, but played down its significance. "What big incident? Everybody has missiles. Is there a country that doesn't have them?"

Since North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty last month, it has said that its nuclear program would generate electricity, not weapons. But Pyongyang typically qualifies the policy by saying "at this stage," leaving open a change of course.

North Korea has never admitted nor denied U.S. assertions that it has one or two nuclear bombs, but claims the right to develop atomic weapons.

Kim said the nuclear crisis could be resolved when "the U.S. abandons its antagonistic schemes" and accepts Pyongyang's demand for a nonaggression treaty.

Summit delegates wrangled for days over North Korea's nuclear crisis, with members pushing for a statement urging Pyongyang to return to the nuclear pact.

But North Korea rejected text after text until agreeing to a final draft, adopted by national leaders Tuesday, that merely "noted" North Korea's withdrawal and urged a peaceful resolution.

U.S. President George W. Bush's spokesman labeled North Korea's test firing of a missile "bizarre" Tuesday and joked that it was a novel way for the communist nation to mark the inauguration of South Korea's new president.

"Typically at times of inaugural festivities, most nations send flowers or bouquets or visiting dignitaries; North Korea sent a short-range cruise missile," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer quipped.

He said the missile launch fit a pattern in which North Korea "engages in rather bizarre actions and then expects the world to pay them or negotiate with them to give them something in exchange for stopping what they shouldn't have done in the first place."

"North Korea will not be rewarded for bad behavior, they should not expect any types of financial inducements as a result of their actions," Fleischer said. "This is a regional issue for the nations in the region to deal with."

Other top U.S. officials tried to play down the significance of the launch at a time when the Bush administration is trying to focus world opinion on Iraq.

Powell called it a "fairly innocuous kind of test."