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U.S. keeps close watch as N. Korea threats escalate

| Monday, April 1, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

The Navy is shifting a guided-missile destroyer in the Pacific to waters off the Korean peninsula because of rhetoric from North Korea, Defense officials said.

The USS McCain is capable of intercepting and destroying a missile, should North Korea decide to fire one off, the officials said.

Defense officials insist that there is nothing to indicate that North Korea is on the verge of an attack.

The White House on Monday said the United States hasn't seen large-scale movements from North Korean military forces.

“I would note that despite the harsh rhetoric we are hearing from Pyongyang, we are not seeing changes to the North Korean military posture, such as large-scale mobilizations and positioning of forces,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Lt. Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, said the ships were moving into position “to monitor any potential missile launch or provocative actions by North Korea and to reassure regional allies.”

The McCain is the only missile-defense-capable ship monitoring North Korean launches. In December, at the time of the long-range multistage North Korean rocket launch, four Navy ballistic missile capable ships were on station. The December test demonstrated the regime had the capability of launching an intercontinental missile capable of striking Alaska or Hawaii, though there is no evidence such missiles can carry nuclear warheads.

A Defense official noted that moving a ship into “the box” to be ready to attempt to intercept a North Korean launch has become standard as tensions rise.

South Korea President Park Geun-hye called for “strong retaliation” against provocations from North Korea.

Park said the country's military should “make a strong and swift response in initial combat without any political considerations.”

Victor Cha, a Korea analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the comments from President Park appeared to be designed to balance out her promises last week of food aid.

“It is so she doesn't look weak or wishy-washy,” Cha said.

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