Skip to main content
CNN EditionU.S.
The Web     
Powered by
powered by Yahoo!

U.S.: N. Korea 'reckless' but diplomacy still best option

Fighters flew within 50 feet of Air Force surveillance jet

From John King

The U.S. Air Force RC-135S reconnaissance jet is based on the Boeing 707 airliner.
The U.S. Air Force RC-135S reconnaissance jet is based on the Boeing 707 airliner.

Story Tools

more video VIDEO
U.S. troops train for possible attack from North Korea, which may have thousands of tons of biological and chemical agents.
premium content

North Korea's propaganda portrays leader Kim Jong Il as the 'sunshine of the 21st century'
premium content
• Analysis: What are the options?
• Six-nation talks: Where they stand
• Interactive: N. Korea military might
• Timeline: Nuclear development
• Interactive: The nuclear club
• Satellite image: Nuclear facility
• Special report: Nuclear crisis

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House on Tuesday labeled North Korea's decision to have fighter jets shadow a U.S. reconnaissance plane as "reckless" but said President Bush remained convinced there could be a diplomatic solution to the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program.

"North Korea continues to engage in provocations and now reckless acts," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.

Fleischer predicted the latest move, the weekend intercept of the U.S. Air Force jet, was an attempt to test the "tolerance" of others in the region.

"North Korea's actions only deepen the alarm that grows in these nations in the region," Fleischer said, adding its "pushing the envelope" would only bring further international isolation for Pyongyang.

He said the United States would lodge a formal protest but had not settled on a venue for doing so.

Other U.S. officials have privately said the one silver lining in the incident could be a greater willingness by China and Russia to exert more pressure on Pyongyang.

One key element of the U.S. strategy is to cast the standoff over North Korea's nuclear program as a multilateral issue, not a dispute between the United States and North Korea.

U.S. military sources said Monday that the RC-135S surveillance aircraft was in international airspace about 150 miles [240 kilometers] off the Korean peninsula when four armed North Korean MiGs approached and flew alongside for 20 minutes, at some points coming within 50 feet of the U.S. plane. The Air Force plane returned to its base in Okinawa, Japan, without further incident.

Pentagon: Intercept took coordination

Pentagon officials say the encounter was obviously well-planned and premeditated because the MiGs have a relatively short range, so for them to fly 150 miles offshore, shadow the U.S. plane and still have fuel to get back would require a coordinated plan that pre-positioned the planes to make the intercept.

"This was obviously ordered by higher-ups," one Pentagon official said.

The North Korean incident was "very deliberate," according to that official.

"If they get the U.S. to fire on them, that's 'proof' an invasion is right around the corner," he said.

Whatever the motivation, U.S. officials agree that the incident shows Pyongyang is taking "bigger and bigger risks."

The RC-135S Cobra Ball aircraft is a modified version of the military C-135S cargo plane, which is based on Boeing's 707 commercial airliner. The aircraft are used to monitor areas where missiles are tested.

Last week, North Korea fired a short-range missile at sea during naval exercises, and Friday, Japanese newspapers reported that Pyongyang had tested a rocket booster for its Taepo Dong ballistic missiles at a launch site on the country's east coast in January.

In 1998, North Korea test-fired a missile that flew over Japan, raising tensions in the region.

Sunday's incident marked the first time in more than 30 years that North Korean aircraft have intercepted a U.S. plane, the sources said.

The previous interception occurred in 1969, when a North Korean fighter shot down a U.S. EC-121 reconnaissance aircraft over the Sea of Japan, killing more than 30 U.S. airmen, according to a Pentagon official.

Story Tools
Subscribe to Time for $1.99 cover
Top Stories
Father guilty of killing 9 of his children
Top Stories
CNN/Money: Security alert issued for 40 million credit cards

International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
Add RSS headlines.