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North Korea raises tensions ahead of Clinton visit

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"This is typical North Korean tactics," says Kim Sung-han, professor of international studies at Korea University. "When North Korea is interested in negotiating a certain issue, they need to create tensions." Its central interest now, he says, is "sending a message to the US, and to South Korea too, before the Obama administration finishes its policy review."

The US hopes to restart six-party talks, which also include South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia, but just how far the Obama administration will go to halt the North's program remains unclear.

South Korea's conservative president, Lee Myung-bak, is trying to win assurances of the Obama administration's full support. He has pursued a hard-line stance since taking office a year ago, cutting off aid that South Korea had delivered for years to North Korea.

While aware of concerns about recent North Korean "threats," Mr. Lee said Monday in a radio address, "you do not need to worry too much."

US intelligence analysts estimate the North has fabricated six to a dozen warheads but doubt the North has the capacity to deliver them to targets.

Satellite imagery last week showed that North Korea had transported a Taepodong-2 missile, with a range of several thousand miles, to the site from which a Taepodong-2 was launched unsuccessfully in July 2006. That missile arced into the sea after a flight of 40 seconds.

"They are moving parts, assembling it," says Mr. Kim. "Then they will be putting fuel into the missile. It's a salami tactic. They are not going to launch it immediately."

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