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U.S. readies for 'real and clear danger' from North Korea

North Korea has threatened the United States with a nuclear attack. In response, Washington has made plans to send a missile defense system to Guam, officials said Wednesday. 

By Phil StewartReuters, Jack KimReuters / April 3, 2013

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks at the Pentagon, last month. The United States announced Wednesday that it plans to set up a missile defense system in Guam as tensions with North Korea continue to escalate.

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

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WASHINGTON/SEOUL

The United States said on Wednesday it would soon send a missile defense system to Guam to defend it from North Korea, as the U.S. military adjusts to what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called a "real and clear danger" from Pyongyang.

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At the same time, North Korea repeated its threat to launch a nuclear attack on the United States. Pyongyang said it had ratified a potential strike because of U.S. military deployments around the Korean peninsula that it claimed were a prelude to a possible nuclear attack on the North.

Washington had been informed of the potential attack by North Korea, a spokesman for its army said in a statement carried by the English language service of state news agency KCNA. It was unclear how such a warning was given since North Korea does not have diplomatic ties with Washington.

Experts say North Korea is years away from being able to hit the continental United States with a nuclear weapon, despite having worked for decades to achieve nuclear-arms capability.

North Korea has previously threatened a nuclear strike on the United States and missile attacks on its Pacific bases, including in Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific. Those threats followed new U.N. sanctions imposed on the North after it carried out its third nuclear test in February.

"Some of the actions they've taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger," Hagel told an audience at the National Defense University in Washington.

U.S. stocks sank to their lows of the day after Hagel's comments and the Guam deployment news.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note briefly dropped below 1.8 percent for the first time since January as investors sought safety in government bonds, driving their prices higher. The dollar strengthened modestly against the euro and yen.

The South Korean won hit a six-month low on Wednesday.

"I would say that people are taking it a lot more seriously than they used to," said Steve Van Order, a fixed income strategist at Calvert Investments in Maryland, referring to the tensions with North Korea.

Despite the rhetoric, Pyongyang has not taken any military action and has shown no sign of preparing its 1.2 million strong armed forces for war, the White House said on Monday.

That would indicate that its threats are partly intended for domestic consumption to bolster young leader Kim Jong-un ahead of celebrations marking the anniversary of the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the state's founder and the younger Kim's grandfather, on April 15.

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