USA might not shoot down North Korean ballistic missile: Carter

Secretary of State John Kerry says the USA may need "more forceful ways" of dealing with North Korea if it develops an intercontinental ballistic missile that threatens America.

"Because it may be more to our advantage to, first of all, save our interceptor inventory, and, second, to gather intelligence from the flight, rather than do that (intercept the ICBM) when it's not threatening".

The US military would not necessarily shoot down a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile, should the country's leader try to test one, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday.

Pyongyang is thought to be planning a nuclear push in 2017 to develop a weapons system that would be capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

Former U.S. officials and other experts have said the United States essentially had two options when it came to trying to curb North Korea's fast-expanding nuclear and missile programs - negotiate or take military action.

North Korea has never successfully test-fired long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, though analysts say it may be capable of doing so within the next five years.

North Korea has also expanded its capacity to enrich uranium, which can also be used to make nuclear weapons.

North Korea deactivated the Yongbyon reactor in 2007 under an aid-for-disarmament accord, but began renovating it after Pyongyang's third nuclear test in 2013. In 2008, the government said that the North had 40 kilograms of the nuclear chemical.

Once fully developed, a North Korean ICBM could threaten the continental United States, which is around 5,500 miles from North Korea.

Last August, North Korea confirmed it had restarted the production of plutonium in the country, following speculations it reopened its Yongbyon nuclear facility that month.

The recognition of North Korea's nuclear strength comes at a bad time domestically, with South Korean President Park Geun-gye now going through an impeachment trial over a power abuse scandal.

  • Rogelio Becker