| WASHINGTON, April 9
WASHINGTON, April 9 The United States is capable
of intercepting a North Korean missile, should it launch one in
the coming days, but may choose not to if the projected
trajectory shows it is not a threat, a top U.S. military
commander told Congress on Tuesday.
Admiral Samuel Locklear, the commander of U.S. forces in the
Pacific region, said the U.S. military believed North Korea had
moved to its east coast an unspecified number of Musudan
missiles, with a range of roughly 3,000-3,500 miles.
An Obama administration official, speaking on condition of
anonymity, told Reuters "our working assumption is that there
are two missiles that they may be prepared to launch" - which
was in line with South Korean media reports.
Locklear said the Musudan's range was far enough to put
Guam, a U.S. territory, at risk but not Hawaii or the U.S.
"If the missile was in defense of the homeland, I would
certainly recommend that action (of intercepting it). And if it
was defense of our allies, I would recommend that action,"
Locklear told a Senate hearing.
Asked whether he would recommend shooting down any missile
fired from North Korea, regardless of its trajectory, Locklear
said: "I would not recommend that."
The comments by Locklear came amid intense speculation that
Pyongyang may be preparing for a missile test - something the
White House says would not be a surprise - or another
provocation that could trigger a military response from Seoul.
The Pentagon has in recent weeks announced changes to its
posture to respond to the North Korean threat, including the
positioning of two, Aegis-class guided-missile destroyers in the
western Pacific and deployment of a missile defense system to
Any U.S. or South Korea response to a North Korean
provocation has the potential to further escalate tensions on
the peninsula, just as North Korea intensifies threats of
imminent conflict. Pyongyang warned to foreigners on Tuesday to
evacuate South Korea to avoid being dragged into "thermonuclear
NO 'OFF-RAMP' TO TENSIONS
The North's latest message belied an atmosphere free of
anxiety in the South Korean capital, where the city center was
bustling with traffic and offices operated normally.
Despite the heated rhetoric, Pyongyang has shown no sign of
preparing its 1.2 million-strong army for war, indicating the
threat could be aimed partly at bolstering Kim Jong-un, 30, the
third in his family to lead the country.
Locklear said the U.S. military believed the younger Kim was
more unpredictable than his father or grandfather, who always
appeared to factor into their cycle of period provocations "an
off-ramp of how to get out of it."
"And it's not clear to me that he has thought through how to
get out of it. And so, this is what makes this scenario, I
think, particularly challenging," Locklear said.
Lawmakers at the hearing were extremely critical of China,
the North's major benefactor, and Locklear acknowledged that the
United States wanted Beijing to do more to influence the North
to dial-back its aggressive posture.
Asked at one point in the hearing whether China was a friend
or foe, Locklear responded: "Neither."
"I consider them at this point in time, someone we have to
develop a strategic partnership with to manage competition
between two world powers," he said.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Jackie Frank)