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Admiral says U.S. can intercept North Korean missile

By Donna Cassata and Richard Lardner

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:47 a.m. HST, Apr 09, 2013

WASHINGTON » U.S. defenses could intercept a ballistic missile launched by North Korea, the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific said today, as the relationship between the West and the communist government hit its lowest ebb since the end of the Korean War.

Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Kim Jong Un, the country's young and still relatively untested new leader, has used the past year to consolidate his power.

The admiral said Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles represents a clear threat to the United States and its allies in the region.

During an exchange with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Locklear said the U.S. military has the capability to thwart a North Korean strike, but he said a decision on whether a missile should be intercepted should be based on where it is aimed and expected to land.

"I believe we have the ability to defend the homeland, Guam, Hawaii and defend our allies," said Locklear, who added that it wouldn't take long to determine where a missile would strike.

Locklear concurred with McCain's assessment that the tension between North Korea and the West was the worst since the end of the Korean War in the early 1950s. But the admiral insisted that the U.S. military and its allies would be ready if North Korea tried to strike.

"We're ready," Locklear said.

He said North Korea is keeping a large percentage of its combat forces along the demilitarized zone with South Korea, a position that allows the North to threaten U.S. and South Korean civilian and military personnel.

Locklear told the panel, "The continued advancement of the North's nuclear and missile programs, its conventional force posture and its willingness to resort to asymmetric actions as a tool of coercive diplomacy creates an environment marked by the potential for miscalculation. ..."

Increasingly bellicose rhetoric has come from Pyongyang and its leader, with North Korea urging foreign companies and tourists to leave South Korea and warning that the countries are on the verge of a nuclear war.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney brushed off the North's declaration that nuclear war was imminent as "more unhelpful rhetoric" and part of a pattern of combative statements and behavior that Pyongyang's leadership has demonstrated for years. He said the U.S. was working with Seoul and Tokyo on the issue.

"It is unhelpful, it is concerning, it is provocative," Carney said.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told Locklear that the North Korean government's threats "appear to exceed its capabilities, and its use of what capabilities it has against the U.S. or our allies seems highly unlikely and would be completely contrary to the regime's primary goal of survival."

"Nonetheless, its words and actions are not without consequences," Levin said.

The Democrat questioned the Obama administration's decision to delay a long-scheduled operational test of an intercontinental ballistic missile amid the North Korea rhetoric.

Locklear said he agreed with the decision to delay the test.

"We have demonstrated to the people of the region, demonstrated to the leadership of North Korea, our ability and willingness to defend our nation, our people, our allies and our forward deployed forces," Locklear said, citing other steps the U.S. military has taken in recent weeks.

The U.S. has moved two of the Navy's missile-defense ships closer to the Korean peninsula, and a land-based system is being deployed to the Pacific territory of Guam. The U.S. also called attention to the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercise that included a practice run over South Korea by B-2 stealth bombers.

Levin mentioned that President Barack Obama recently talked to China's new president, Xi Jinping, about the U.S. efforts to deal with North Korea. Locklear said he has not had similar conversations with his Chinese counterparts.

In an exchange with Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, Locklear acknowledged a hotline connection between Washington and Beijing similar to what existed with Moscow during the Cold War, and said both sides need to move forward in continuing conversations.

Locklear told Levin that he would explore the possibility of making direct contact with his military counterparts in China and communicate with them the seriousness of the situation on the Korean peninsula.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., insisted that North Korea's nuclear program could come to a "grinding halt" if China pressured Pyongyang.

Reflecting the uneasy relationship, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Locklear if he considers China a "friend or a foe." Locklear said neither.

"I consider (China), at this point in time, someone we have to develop a strategic partnership with to manage competition between two world powers," Locklear said.

Locklear said Kim Jong Un has adopted pages from the playbook used by his father, Kim Jong Il, but his approach differs in a significant way. Kim Jong Un's father, as well as his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, made sure they had "off ramps" that gave them a way to exit a confrontation, particularly if the U.S. and its allies were willing to offer concessions. Kim Jong Un, Locklear said, appears not to have given himself channels that would help him ratchet down the tensions.

The admiral described Kim Jong Un as "an impetuous young leader (who) continues to focus on provocation rather than on his own people."

The scope of Locklear's responsibilities as the top officer at Pacific Command extend beyond the Korean peninsula, and he told the committee that his command is closely watching the proliferation of submarines among countries including China and Vietnam. Locklear said there are an estimated 300 submarines being operated around the world, although he noted that no country there has an undersea force as capable as the United States'.

Both Russia and China are expected soon to deploy new ballistic missile submarines capable of threatening the United States, Locklear said. India is also expanding its submarine force, and Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and South Korea have launched, or soon will, modern submarines.

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'We're ready' for North Korea, Locklear says

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Mike174 wrote:
For all the money we spend on the vast military industrial complex annually in this country we darn well better be able to shoot anything N. Korea sends our way!
on April 9,2013 | 08:10AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Rumor has it that missile defense is to be cut in Obama's soon to be released budget. That would check with reductions he made earlier in his administration (reductions were to the very missile sites in Alaska and California that he recently decided to plus-up.
on April 9,2013 | 12:22PM
loquaciousone wrote:
North Korea has WMDs..it's called sour kim chee.
on April 9,2013 | 08:18AM
Bully wrote:
Correction: Admiral thinks he can shoot down the missile.
on April 9,2013 | 09:25AM
kiragirl wrote:
Why wait for them to make the first move? Nuke their military bases and factories. The threats are an act of war.
on April 9,2013 | 09:39AM
pcman wrote:
Our leadership prefers to lead from behind. We elected him so live with it.
on April 9,2013 | 12:01PM
IAmSane wrote:
What a great way to start World War III.
on April 9,2013 | 04:35PM
badcard36 wrote:
Because the nuclear fallout would be catastrophic for South Korea and Japan as well. Both allies of the US.
on April 9,2013 | 05:39PM
50skane wrote:
It will be very interesting to see what China will do if we have to strike North Korea with nuclear or conventional warfare being that they fought along side with North Korea and killed thousands of U.S. soldiers during the Korean war..hopefully they will truly be like Japan..an ally.
on April 9,2013 | 09:57AM
Sunny wrote:
The Chinese do not want to get involved with any conflict, I'm sure they will not risk their lives and economy trying to save North Korea. They may not be a US ally but will not want to commit their military to any Korean conflict.
on April 9,2013 | 11:16AM
Pacej001 wrote:
I guess you're using history as a guide??? Maybe not.
on April 9,2013 | 12:23PM
IAmSane wrote:
1950 China and 2013 China are different places.
on April 9,2013 | 04:36PM
saveparadise wrote:
Anybody for cutting military spending? Singing a different tune are we?
on April 9,2013 | 10:05AM
Bdpapa wrote:
Sure sounds that way.
on April 9,2013 | 10:13AM
pcman wrote:
Only about 5% of our GNP goes into national defense. In fact, less now with Obama.
on April 9,2013 | 12:04PM
HD36 wrote:
Most of that GNP is the result of the Federal Reserve loaning the government $85 billion a month. This private bank, who's owners are a cabal of private international banks are propping up the economy for now but we have to pay them back the $3.2 trillion.
on April 9,2013 | 04:59PM
Allenk wrote:
Now that sequester is going full speed ahead, up comes the threat. Don't we have intelligence coming in on these things?
on April 9,2013 | 10:26AM
pcman wrote:
The North Koreans know our political will to engage in a Pacific-Asian war is low, given the drastic cuts by Obama to modernize the US forces. They are testing the will of South Korea,being that the new President Park is untested, although she leans to social progress with North Korea rather than war. They are testing Japan to see if Japan will cave in to the nuclear threat or build its own wartime nuclear function.The sequester might be the hair that breaks the camel's back
on April 9,2013 | 12:14PM
IAmSane wrote:
Even with the sequester, we spend way more on our military than any country in the world. We'll be okay.
on April 9,2013 | 04:39PM
HD36 wrote:
The threat has been overblown just like the cost overuns on almost all military projects. No accountablility.
on April 9,2013 | 05:00PM
allie wrote:
The "threat" of more war is music to the the ears of the munition factory and Pentagon. They have been dreaming of this event. Urging it on the ensure federal funds keep flowing.
on April 9,2013 | 11:34AM
Pacej001 wrote:
Such an ignorant, malicious statement. No one wants a war on the Korean peninsula. Seems to me that, when it comes to supposed US imperialism and militarism, you are a veritable information vacuum.
on April 9,2013 | 12:27PM
HD36 wrote:
Ever heard of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident?
on April 9,2013 | 05:01PM
HD36 wrote:
We already spend more on military than all other countries in the world combined and yet we're the world's largest debtor nation in history.
on April 9,2013 | 04:57PM
cojef wrote:
Someone has to rachet-down the rhetoric, but a road to appeasement also has consequences as Chamberlain found out in 1936/40's. Are we ready to back away from the confrontations? The yes, is much more appealing in that if we stop altogether the exchanges between the United States/South Korea/Japan and North Korea, then only Kim Jong Un will listening to himself talk and it will soon become uncomfortable since his people will have to continue bearing the hardships. Let the North Koreans topple their own Government. With patience we may witness this event. Wistfully logic, it could happen.
on April 9,2013 | 10:14AM
Uncleart66 wrote:
Let's drop the old 787 batteries on North Korea.............
on April 9,2013 | 10:27AM
CriticalReader wrote:
A. Please stop using the word "bellicose"; B. Based on all military intelligence movies I've seen, we should know where Kim is, or at the very least what buldings he is occupying, we should be able to launch a variety of manned and unmanned craft to deliver bombs upon those locations, we should be able to launch bombs that have pinpoint accuracy from ships at sea and land bases, and we also have some dude or dudette on our payroll who is responsible for handling Km's feeding. So, point the craft and bombs, launch all immeidately if N.k. launches, and order posoning right now. And get video please. We want to see what happened. We don't fully trust the movies or CNN re-creations.
on April 9,2013 | 10:58AM
Bdpapa wrote:
We don't need to see these things. That just doesn't sit well wiyh me. Too much reality shows.
on April 9,2013 | 11:26AM
pcman wrote:
IRT Critical Reader, all the spies in North Korea can't read what's in Kim JU's head. Therein lies the problem.
on April 9,2013 | 12:17PM
loquaciousone wrote:
All the North Korean spies now live in South Korea.
on April 9,2013 | 12:46PM
false wrote:
But sadly the military will probably be ordered not to shootdown or intercept the missiles.
on April 9,2013 | 04:09PM
HD36 wrote:
That's exactly what Dick Chenney did when they told him something was heading straight towards the Pentagon on 911.
on April 9,2013 | 05:03PM
false wrote:
And to think there are "missing" North Korean submarines that could be just offshore.
on April 9,2013 | 06:30PM
HD36 wrote:
The Senate Armed Committee is filled with a revolving door of ex militarygenerals, bribed congressman, and Lockheed Martin ex-executives.
on April 9,2013 | 08:48PM
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