WASHINGTON (AP) — On the brink of an expected North Korean missile test, U.S. officials are focusing on the limits of Pyongyang's nuclear firepower. They are trying to shift attention from the disclosure that the Koreans might be able to launch a nuclear strike, saying that while the unpredictable government might have rudimentary nuclear capabilities, it has not proven it has a weapon that could reach the United States.
A senior defense official said Friday that Washington. sees a "strong likelihood" that North Korea will launch a test missile in coming days in defiance of international calls for restraint. The effort is expected to test the North's ballistic missile technologies, not a nuclear weapon, said the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Several officials said that unless the missile unexpectedly heads for a U.S. or allied target, the Pentagon does not plan to try to shoot it down. As a precaution, the U.S. has arrayed in the Pacific a number of missile defense Navy ships, tracking radars and other elements of its worldwide network for shooting down hostile missiles.
The tensions playing out on the Korean peninsula are the latest in a long-running drama that dates to the 1950-53 Korean War, fed by the North's conviction that Washington is intent on destroying the government in Pyongyang and Washington's worry that the North could, out of desperation, reignite the war by invading the South.