U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says North Korea’s threats of war are "unacceptable" and that the United States “will, if needed, defend our allies and defend ourselves.”
Speaking at a news conference in Seoul, he warned North Korean leader Kim Jong Un against a further escalation of tensions.
"The greatest danger is that something happens, and there's a response to that something, and that things somehow, inadvertently, were to get out of control," Kerry said. "And so we call on Kim Jong Un to recognize that this is a moment for responsible leadership and it's a moment to reach for the good possibilities, not to try to guarantee the bad ones."
Kerry is on his first trip to Asia as secretary of state. He met earlier with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
Kerry also said the United States and South Korea want to see a peaceful Korean Peninsula that is free of nuclear weapons.
The top U.S. diplomat's visit follows the release of a U.S. intelligence report that concluded Pyongyang probably has the capability to arm a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead.
However, the Pentagon said the North Koreans have not fully tested or demonstrated the ability to launch an effective, nuclear-tipped missile.
In recent weeks, the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has threatened a nuclear strike and said a "state of war" exists with South Korea.
South Korea said it doubts that Pyongyang has succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to the point it can be carried by a missile.
"North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests, but there is doubt whether it is at the stage where it can reduce the weight and miniaturize [a warhead] to mount it on a missile," South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.
Speaking in Tokyo on April 12, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said his country would deploy Patriot missiles in Okinawa permanently from this month as part of its efforts to boost defense capability amid concerns over North Korea's missile threat.
"The Defense Ministry has been looking into whether it is possible to further push forward our previous plans to protect people's livelihood and property," he said. "As such, we will look into deploying as early as possible in April the PAC-3 missile interceptors, currently stationed at Hamamatsu, to Naha and Chinen [in Okinawa]."
South Korean intelligence says the North has prepared two midrange missiles for imminent launch from its east coast, despite warnings from ally China to avoid provocative moves at a time of soaring military tensions.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters