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Kay: North Korea tests a 'desperate play'

'We don't understand them, and they clearly misunderstand us'

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Former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay

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(CNN) -- North Korea test-fired a long-range missile and five shorter-range rockets early Wednesday, but the closely watched long-range test failed within a minute, U.S. officials said.

CNN anchor John King discussed the tests Wednesday with former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay.

KING: What is [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-Il's calculation?

KAY: ... We all ought to be honest, there's very little that we know about the internal dynamics of that regime, but that here is an individual who desperately wants attention.

He needs a deal with the United States, he believes, both for security and economic reasons. And essentially, the Bush administration has stiff-armed him, not being willing to come forward with direct negotiations outside of the group-of-six discussions.

So I think it's a desperate play. It obviously didn't work. And I think the most interesting sidebar story is going to be what happens in Pyongyang? Who vouched for the reliability of this missile, and what are the consequences now that it failed? ...

KING: Many would reflexively say, if the test of this new long-range missile failed, that it weakens Pyongyang's hand. But this is, as you said, a secretive, reclusive regime. We don't know much about its internal calculations. Could it cause some desperate reaction, if you will?

KAY: I worry as much about weakening Pyongyang's hand as strengthening [it] because we know so little about it. The one thing we do know -- or think we know -- is it has five to six nuclear warheads and is a secretive regime. So, a weakened Pyongyang might not necessarily be more in the interest of stability and peace on the Korean Peninsula and that part of East Asia.

I don't think we know enough to know how this will play out. I think that probably is the focus of what limited intelligence gathering we have right now.

KING: [Some] have said they wish the administration was more generous in what it was willing to put on the table, the carrots, if you will. ... One would assume the last thing the president would be inclined to do is to put more carrots on the table.

KAY: I think that's absolutely true. Although I must say, the carrot that they really want -- North Korea really wants a relationship with the United States. ... We've spoken the opposite way, of asking the Chinese to bring more pressure on the North Koreans.

My read of North Korea, and my discussions when I've been in Asia recently, is that the North Koreans are deeply suspicious of the Chinese. They realize how much economic power [the Chinese] have over them. And they would like a relationship with us as much to counter the Chinese.

I think it likely this was a stupid, ill-advised ploy on their part. But it also shows how little they understand the U.S.

I think any analyst would have said ... on the Fourth of July you're going to fly rockets and expect -- a day of not only independence, but the launch of the Discovery -- and expect the U.S. to respond with generosity and open arms towards you?

But that also tells us a great deal about North Korea. We don't understand them, and they clearly misunderstand us.

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