The U.S. Army is speeding a mobile missile defense system to Guam to protect
U.S. forces in the Pacific from a possible North Korean attack, the Pentagon
Deploying the sophisticated Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system to the U.S. territory two years ahead of schedule is "a precautionary move to strengthen our regional defense posture against the North Korean regional ballistic missile threat," the Pentagon said.
The land-based missile system, designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, is expected to be fully deployed in Guam in the next few weeks, the Pentagon said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Pyongyang's threats had escalated to "a real and clear danger" to the United States and to its regional allies.
"They have a nuclear capacity now," he said of North Korea at the National Defense University in Washington. "They have a missile delivery capacity now.
"And so, as they have ratcheted up their bellicose, dangerous rhetoric, and some of the actions they have taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger."
Hagel specifically cited "the threats that the North Koreans have leveled directly at the United States regarding our base in Guam, threatened Hawaii, threatened the West Coast of the United States."
"We have to take those threats seriously," he said.
Despite the concern, Pyongyang has not established its missiles can hit Guam or Hawaii, much less the U.S. mainland, the Los Angeles Times said. It is also not clear if North Korea has a nuclear warhead small enough to be carried on its missiles, the Times said.
North Korea's state news agency quoted an unnamed military spokesman Wednesday as saying the North's military had been cleared to attack using "smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear" weapons and Pyongyang had "ratified" plans for a "merciless" nuclear operation against the United States.
The "moment of explosion is approaching fast" and war could break out "today or tomorrow," the official Korean Central News Agency quoted the spokesman as saying.
The North announced Tuesday it would resume operations to produce weapons-grade plutonium at a formerly shuttered nuclear reactor at its Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.
Photographs published Wednesday on the website 38 North, which follows North Korean developments, show new construction at the aging reactor, dating back several weeks.
Also Wednesday, North Korean officials blocked more than 480 South Koreans from crossing the border to enter a jointly run industrial park, South Korean officials said
The Kaesong industrial complex, 6 miles north of the heavily fortified border that has separated the two countries for six decades, is widely viewed as the last remaining major symbol of inter-Korean cooperation.
North Korea said it would let 861 South Koreans staying in the city of Kaesong to return home if they wished, said the Unification Ministry of South Korea, which is in charge of relations with the North.
But with no replacements arriving, only 33 immediately chose to return home, it said.
The complex employs roughly 53,000 North Koreans.
Pyongyang threatened to shut the complex down several days ago, after South Korean news media said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had cut hot lines and other communications across the border but did not want to risk one of his most precious sources of hard currency, The New York Times said.
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