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John Kerry in Seoul: North Korea missile launch would be 'huge mistake'

Secretary of State John Kerry issued a stern warning Friday, telling Kim Jong-un North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

Secretary of State John Kerry said a North Korean missile launch would be a “huge mistake" and reiterated that the United States would defend its allies if necessary after arriving in the South Korean capital on Friday.

North Korea has run paratrooper drills close enough to be seen from the Chinese border.   Arriving in Seoul, South Korea, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned North Korea against a missile launch saying  the U.S. would “defend our allies and defend ourselves.” ITV’s Angus Walker reports

Kerry also warned Pyongyang that firing a medium-range missile would be a "provocative and unwanted act."

“Kim Jong Un needs to understand, as I think he probably does, what the outcome of a conflict would be,” Kerry said. “Our hope is we can get back to talks."

“The rhetoric that we are hearing from North Korea is simply unacceptable by any standard,” Kerry added. The United States “will, if needed, defend our allies and defend ourselves,” he said.

North Korea's two medium-range missiles remained fueled and ready to fire on the country's east coast Friday, U.S. military and intelligence officials said. However, there had been no heightened movement or activity by the country's military that would suggest an imminent rocket launch.


Kerry met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Friday for the first of four days of talks amid speculation about North Korea’s military capabilities and uncertainty over what threat the isolated nation’s erratic leader may make next.

The South Korean president thanked Kerry for his leadership in recent weeks as North Korea has escalated its rhetoric.

Pentagon intelligence has assessed that North Korea likely does have the ability to launch nuclear missiles, which raises the stakes for John Kerry, who just landed in South Korea, to find a diplomatic way out of the crisis. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

“I also wish to express my appreciation for your leadership in having the recent G8 foreign ministers meeting in London issue a stern warning to North Korea,” Park told Kerry through an interpreter. “I also wish to say given the escalating tensions on the peninsula, your visit will certainly showcase how closely we are coordinating our efforts.”

John Everard, a former British ambassador to North Korea, said Pyongyang was going to have to make a decision whether to fire or not fire their missiles soon.

“They are liquid-fueled missiles, and the liquid that you use for such missiles is quite nasty stuff,” he said. “You can't leave the missile full of fuel because the fuel will corrode the missile.  You either have to fire it within about 10 days of fueling it or you have to defuel it, which is a messy and dangerous process. So they're coming to a crunch point.”

“I suspect that they are planning on launching.  I don't think -- or I hope -- that the missile won't be directed at anything. I think they will probably go for a test, drop the missile into the sea," he said. "And we hope that if they do that, they don't feel the need to fly it over the top of Japan, which they did in 1998.”

Everard added that “frankly their missiles are not that good, they are old-fashioned …  [and] their guidance systems are poor.”

Later on Friday, South Korea and the U.S. released the following joint statement:

The 60-year alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea is crucial for security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The United States reaffirms its commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea in the wake of recent unacceptable provocations by North Korea.

Both sides agree on the importance of the denuclearization of North Korea, knowing that North Korea's dangerous nuclear and missile programs threaten not only its neighbors, but also its own people.

The United States stands vigilantly by the Republic of Korea's side, and is prepared for and capable of defending and protecting itself and its allies. Both of our countries are taking prudent measures - both military and diplomatic - to enhance our security. At the same time, the two countries remain committed to the goal of peaceful denuclearization. In this context, the United States welcomes the Trust-building Process on the Korean Peninsula proposed by President Park Geun-hye.

We will continue working with all Six-Party partners and the international community to make clear that North Korea must adhere to its international obligations and commitments or face further isolation. We will continue to encourage North Korea to make the right choice. If North Korea does so, we are prepared to implement the commitments under the 2005 Six-Party Joint Statement. But Pyongyang must prove its seriousness by taking meaningful steps to abide by its international obligations. 

Nuclear missile capability?
Kerry addressed a report by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, which was disclosed in a congressional hearing on Thursday, that said the agency has “moderate confidence” that North Korea is capable of mounting a nuclear weapon on a missile, but that such a weapon would likely not be reliable.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks on Capitol Hill Thursday regarding recent military threats made by North Korea.

After the hearing, Pentagon spokesman George Little said “it would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced” at the Thursday hearing.

Kerry said Friday that while North Korea has tested a nuclear device, they have not yet shown the capability to build a weapon small enough to be mounted on a ballistic missile.

“It is inaccurate to suggest that the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- North Korea's official name] has fully tested, developed, and demonstrated capabilities that are articulated in that report,” Kerry said. “But obviously they have conducted a nuclear test so there is some kind of device. But that is very different from miniaturization and delivery and from tested delivery and other things. Does it get you closer to a line that is more dangerous? Yes.”

Kerry said the United States would continue to work with allies including Japan to find other ways to de-escalate tensions, and said that President Barack Obama has ordered a number of unspecified exercises not to take place to help calm the heated rhetoric.

As Kerry heads to Seoul, South Korea, tensions with North Korea continue to rise as it remains unclear whether or not the latest rhetoric is merely Kim Jong-un showing off his military strength. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

"We are all united in the fact that North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power," Kerry added.

Kerry also planned to visit China and Japan on his East Asia trip. The U.S. has engaged in aggressive diplomacy with China, North Korea’s northern neighbor and benefactor, in the latest round of saber-rattling.

Pyongyang relies on China for basic supplies like food and fuel, as well as a diplomatic link to the world, but Beijing’s good will toward the impoverished nation has recently waned. There are signs Chinese officials have tired of the North’s bellicose rhetoric, and China supported a round of United Nations sanctions following the country’s third nuclear test.

“We do not want to see chaos and conflict on China’s doorstep,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told NBC News.

NBC News' Jim Miklaszewski and Ian Johnston, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The youngest son of Kim Jong Il succeeded his late father in 2011, becoming the third member of his family to rule the unpredictable and reclusive communist state.

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