The United States is capable of bringing down any missile fired from North Korea, the head of U.S. Pacific Command said recently (see GSN, March 3).
Navy vessels loaded with interceptor missiles are prepared to fire "on a moment's notice," Keating said in an interview with ABC News.
His comments followed Pyongyang's announcement that it was preparing to fire a satellite into orbit from a northeastern launch facility. The United States and other nations suspect North Korea actually plans another test-launch of its Taepodong 2 long-range missile.
Should it look like it's something other than a satellite launch, we will be fully prepared to respond as the president directs," Keating said. "Odds are very high that we'll hit what we're aiming at. That should be a source of great confidence and reassurance for our allies."
The Navy has installed Aegis missile defense systems on 18 ships. The technology has also been deployed on Japanese and South Korean naval vessels, Agence France-Presse reported.
Heritage Foundation analyst Bruce Klingner said there is a 70 percent to 80 percent likelihood of a North Korean missile launch.
"It is the next step in Pyongyang's escalating efforts to try to get the U.S. to soften its demands in the six-way talks and back away from the requirement of international standards for verification" of nuclear disarmament, he said.
A missile test could produce a number of long-term responses, such as increased missile defense activities in South Korea, Klingner said.
"A successful launch would significantly and overnight alter the threat perception in Northeast Asia," he said
Seoul said today that Pyongyang appears to be continuing to move toward a launch, which observers believe could occur in late March or early April, the Associated Press reported.
"Various preparations are progressing [but] a launch does not appear to be very imminent," said South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek.
Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special envoy to North Korea, said during a trip to China that Beijing and Washington "both believe it would not be a good idea to have a missile launch."
Bosworth is traveling to China, Japan and South Korea for talks on the nuclear negotiations, which have been stalled since late last year (Jae-Soon Chang, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, March 4).