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White House says U.S. fully capable of defending against N.K. missiles

All Headlines 05:08 January 04, 2017

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, Jan. 3 (Yonhap) -- The U.S. is fully capable of defending against North Korean missiles, the White House said Tuesday, after the communist nation said it's in the final stage of preparations to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile.

"For years, the United States has, at the direction of the commander in chief, President Obama, has increased the defenses that are deployed in the Pacific region to protect the American people from this threat," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at a regular briefing.

"I can confirm once again that the United States military does believe it has the capacity to protect the American people from the threat that's emanating from North Korea," he said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made the remark about test-firing an ICBM in his New Year's address on Sunday. It was widely seen as a thinly vehiled threat that Pyongyang is close to developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the continental U.S.

The threat sparked security concerns in the U.S., even leading U.S. President-elect Donald Trump to send a tweet: "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!"

It was unclear what Trump's message means exactly, whether it represents his assessment of the North's weapons capabilities based on intelligence, or if it means he's going to do something to prevent the communist nation from acquiring those capabilities.

Still, it showed Trump recognizes the issue as a priority.

The North's threat also dominated Tuesday's briefing at the Pentagon, with reporters even asking if the U.S. is willing to shoot it down if the North test-launches an ICBM, and whether the U.S. is willing to take out a North Korean capability in a preemptive fashion.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook stressed the U.S. is capable of defending itself.

"I'm not going to hypothesize on what could happen in the future," Cook said in response to a question if the U.S. is willing to shoot down a North Korean missile. "But we remain confident in our ballistic missile defense and in our defense of our allies and our defense of the homeland."

The U.S. Pacific Fleet has a number of ships equipped with the Aegis ballistic missile defense system that has undergone successful testing.

Cook also said the U.S. is working hard to deploy the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea "as quickly and efficiently as possible."

"We'll do everything we can working with the South Koreans to do that. We think it's an important part of our broader missile defense efforts in support of our ally and in support of the region as well," he said.

He also rejected China's opposition to the deployment.

"There's no reason for China to oppose that system. This is a defensive system. And there's no reason for anyone in the region to have concern about that, other than, perhaps, North Korea," he said.

jschang@yna.co.kr
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