U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has warned North Korea it is “skating very close to a dangerous line” after weeks of saber-rattling, as northeast Asia watched for an expected missile test. “Their actions and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation,” Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon. He said the United States and its allies want to see North Korean rhetoric “ratcheted down,” but if that doesn’t happen, “our country is fully prepared to deal with any contingency.” “We have every capacity to deal with any action North Korea will take to protect this country and the interests of this country and our allies,” Hagel said.
American radar and satellites are trained on the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, where the communist government of Kim Jong Un is believed to have prepared mobile ballistic missiles for launch at any time, U.S. and South Korean officials warned. Japan has deployed missile defense systems around Tokyo, some Chinese tour groups have canceled visits to North Korea and the top U.S. commander in the Pacific said Tuesday that he couldn’t recall a time of greater tension in the region since the end of the Korean War in the 1950s.
Since December, North Korea has put a satellite in orbit atop a long-range rocket; conducted a nuclear bomb test, its third since 2006; and claimed to be prepared for pre-emptive nuclear attacks on the United States, though most analysts believe it does not yet have that capability. The north has given ample warning to the world before previous long-range rocket launches — but it is keeping everyone guessing about what it might do this time around.
Intelligence suggests that North Korea may be planning “multiple missile launches” in the coming days beyond two Musudan mobile missiles it has placed along its east coast, Pentagon officials told CNN. The officials did not have specifics on the numbers of other missiles and launchers. One official said the North Koreans are military “masters of deception,” and may have planned all along to focus the world’s attention on the Musudans while they plan multiple launches of other missiles. That’s a tactic they have used in the past, the official said.
The United States is less troubled about the other missiles, a second Pentagon official told CNN. “We’ve been seeing some launchers moving around. These are smaller and don’t cause us as much concerns,” that official said. “We think these movements are within seasonal norms for their exercises.” But he didn’t discount the possibility that they might launch some of those, as they often do.