US preparing for possible N Korea actions

2013-04-07 21:38

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Bagram - The top US military officer said on Sunday the Pentagon had bolstered its missile defences and taken other steps because he "can't take the chance" that North Korea won't soon engage in some military action.

Heightened tensions with North Korea led the United States to postpone congressional testimony by the chief US commander in South Korea and delay an intercontinental ballistic missile test from a West Coast base.

North Korea, after weeks of war threats and other efforts to punish South Korea and the US for joint military drills, has told other nations that it will be unable to guarantee diplomats' safety in the North's capital beginning Wednesday.

US General Martin Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chair who just wrapped up a visit to Afghanistan, was asked in an Associated Press interview whether he foresees North Korea taking military action soon.

"No, but I can't take the chance that it won't," he said, explaining why the Pentagon has strengthened missile defences and made other decisions to combat the potential threat.

Dempsey said the US has been preparing for further provocations or action, "considering the risk that they may choose to do something" on one of two nationally important anniversaries in April - the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and the creation of the North Korean army.

US General James Thurman, the commander of the 28 000 American troops in South Korea, will stay in Seoul as "a prudent measure" rather than travel to Washington to appear this coming week before congressional committees, Army Colonel Amy Hannah said in an e-mail on Sunday to the AP.

Thurman has asked the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, and the House Appropriations subcommittee on defence to excuse his absence until he can testify at a later date.

Dempsey said he had consulted with Thurman about the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Missile test

The Pentagon has postponed an intercontinental ballistic missile test that was set for the coming week at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, a senior defence official told the AP on Saturday.

The official said US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel decided to put off the long-planned Minuteman 3 test because of concerns the launch could be misinterpreted and exacerbate the Korean crisis. Hagel made the decision on Friday, the official said.

North Korea's military said this past week that it was authorised to attack the US using "smaller, lighter and diversified" nuclear weapons.

North Korea also conducted a nuclear test in February and in December launched a long-range rocket that could potentially hit the continental US.

The US has moved two of the Navy's missile-defence ships closer to the Korean peninsula, and a land-based system is being deployed to the Pacific territory of Guam later this month. The Pentagon last month announced longer-term plans to strengthen its US-based missile defences.

Citing North Korea's suggestion that diplomats leave the country, South Korean President Park Geun-hye's national security director said the North may be planning a missile launch or another provocation around Wednesday, according to presidential spokesperson Kim Haing.

In Washington, an adviser to President Barack Obama said "we wouldn't be surprised if they did a test. They've done that in the past."

US Senator John McCain said the North's young leader, Kim Jong Un, is playing a game of brinksmanship.

"In the past we have seen this repetitious confrontation, negotiation, incentives to North Korea to better behave, hopes that they will abandon their nuclear quest - which they never will, otherwise, they'd be totally irrelevant," McCain told CBS's Face the Nation.

"And so we've seen the cycle over and over and over again, for last 20 or 30 years. They confront. There's crisis. Then we offer them incentives - food, money. While meanwhile the most repressive and oppressive regime on earth continues to function," he added.

McCain said China "does hold the key to this problem. China can cut off their economy if they want to."

Read more on:    kim jong un  |  us  |  north korea  |  nuclear  |  north korea nuclear programme

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