WASHINGTON — The U.S. is fully capable of defending itself against a North Korean ballistic missile attack, the White House said Thursday, after Pyongyang threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States.
"I can tell you that the United States is fully capable of defending against any North Korean ballistic missile attack," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
In the past year, North Korea has made strides toward its goal of having a nuclear weapon that could threaten the U.S. although experts doubt it yet has the capability to hit the U.S. with a ballistic missile or miniaturize a nuclear device to mount on such a missile.
However, the North possesses hundreds of shorter-range missiles that could hit U.S. bases in Japan and South Korea, said Victor Cha, Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
Carney alluded to the development of U.S. system designed to defend against long-range missiles. He said the U.S. is on a "good trajectory" after success in its return to testing of the Ground-Based Interceptor.
David Wright at the Union of Concerned Scientists said that system, deployed in the U.S., was initiated by the George W. Bush administration because of concern about the North Korean threat. Some of its previous tests of the system failed, and Wright said it is still in development.
In East Asia, the U.S. has deployed the land-based Patriot system and the sea-based Aegis systems, which are designed to intercept shorter-range missiles.
The top U.S. envoy on North Korea, Glyn Davies, cautioned Pyongyang not to miscalculate, saying the U.S. will take necessary steps to defend itself and its allies, including South Korea, where it bases nearly 30,000 U.S. troops.
Davies, who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, faced Republican skepticism about the effectiveness of Obama administration policy toward North Korea.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., drew a comparison with Iran and said he did not believe North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, could be persuaded to disarm. The best the U.S. could hope for was to delay the development of the North's weapons and its ability to strike the West, he said.
"They're convinced the only way they are ever going to accomplish what they want is by having a nuclear program and being able to hold the world hostage with it," Rubio told the hearing.