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Obama 'prepared' over North Korea

UNITED States President Barack Obama assured Americans in an interview broadcast yesterday that the US is prepared for any move North Korea might make, amid reports Pyongyang is planning a long-range missile test to follow up its nuclear test last month.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered additional protection for Hawaii as a precaution, though experts say North Korea doesn't yet have a ballistic missile that can reach Hawaii and has not mastered mounting a nuclear bomb on a long-range missile.

Still, North Korea declared itself a "proud nuclear power" and warned it will strike if provoked.

"It would be a grave mistake for the US to think it can remain unhurt if it ignites the fuse of war on the Korean peninsula," the country's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary.

The US, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, has said it has no such intentions.

Obama assured Americans that "this administration - and our military - is fully prepared for any contingencies."

"I don't want to speculate on hypotheticals," Obama said. "But I want to give assurances to the American people that the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted in terms of what might happen."

A US destroyer, meanwhile, was shadowing a North Korean cargo ship suspected of carrying illicit weapons. The Kang Nam, accused of engaging in illicit trade in the past, appeared to be heading toward Myanmar, a South Korean intelligence official said yesterday. He said the ship is believed to be transporting weapons. The Kang Nam is the first ship being tracked under United Nations Security Council sanctions designed to punish North Korea for its nuclear test last month.

The sanctions require member states to inspect vessels believed to contain banned goods.

Japan's Coast Guard, meanwhile, said it received a notice from North Korea's maritime authority saying ships would be banned from the waters off the coast of northern North Korea and southeastern Russia between June 25 and July 10 "for military exercises."


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