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Labott: Are North Korea's missile tests tough tactics or tantrum?

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is back in the headlines.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea caused an outcry when it test-fired seven missiles, one of which was identified as a Taepodong-2 that has the potential to carry a warhead to the United States.

As the United Nations Security Council discusses how the international community should respond, CNN's Elise Labott considers what made Pyongyang test its missiles now.

LABOTT: As America celebrated the Fourth of July, the most dramatic display of fireworks came from North Korea. To be sure, Pyongyang's test-firing of seven missiles, including at least one long-range missile that might be able to reach U.S. soil, raised the stakes in the nuclear standoff between North Korea and the international community.

But the question on everyone's mind is: Why now? Why would North Korea ignore the warnings of the whole world against testing its Taepodong-2 missile, even raising the ante with at least five more shots of defiance wrapped in short-range missiles?

The answer is that nobody knows. Predicting the intentions of North Korea is often an exercise in futility. Many U.S. officials and experts on North Korea believe the nation is simply trying to get attention.

Pyongyang has often engaged in surprise behavior to attract international attention when it feels it is being ignored, and for months the world's attention has been focused on the Iranian nuclear program.

Last month, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, along with Germany, offered Iran a package of incentives to give up its program, including economic benefits and a light-water reactor for civilian use.

And so these officials and analysts believe North Korea, like a petulant child feeling neglected, has returned to its old tricks of making threats and exercising its military muscle to refocus attention on itself.

If that was the goal it certainly was accomplished, as North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Il have again captured both world headlines and the attention of world leaders.

North Korea could also believe its actions will strengthen its bargaining position with the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea and Russia in the six-party talks.

The last round of talks ended in September with North Korea agreeing in principle to give up its entire nuclear program, including weapons -- a landmark agreement that was announced in a joint statement. In return, the other five parties said they were willing to provide energy assistance to North Korea, promote economic cooperation and hold talks about a civil nuclear energy program at "an appropriate time." The US also promised not to attack North Korea. But since then, North Korea has refused to return to the table.

The United States hopes the one thing North Korea will have accomplished this week is uniting the international community around the idea that Pyongyang cannot continue along this path.

Seeking results

As the Security Council takes up the North Korea issue, Christopher Hill, the State Department's top man for East Asia and the U.S. envoy to the six-party talks, was to leave Wednesday for consultations with his counterparts in China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

Part of his mission will be coordinating a response with U.S. allies. But he will also be pressing China, North Korea's closest ally and the host of the six-party talks, to put pressure on Pyongyang.

As he left for Beijing, Hill declined to outline specific measures China could take. But he said he would urge China to "get results."

Although the U.S. and its partners will discuss measures to protect against possible North Korean missile attacks, officials say the main goal is to coax North Korea back to the table.

With no good military options, the United States hopes a combination of tough diplomacy, possible sanctions and international unity will win eventually win out over North Korea's defiance.

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