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(photo credit: AP)
The United States has positioned more missile defenses around Hawaii as a precaution against a possible North Korean launch across the Pacific, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.
"We do have some concerns if they were to launch a missile to the west in the direction of Hawaii," Gates said.
Gates told reporters at the Pentagon he has sent the military's ground-based mobile missile system to Hawaii, and positioned a radar system nearby. Together the systems theoretically could detect and shoot down a North Korean missile if it came to that.
"Without telegraphing what we will do, I would just say ... we are in a good position, should it become necessary, to protect Americans and American territory," Gates said.
A Japanese newspaper reported Thursday that North Korea might fire its most advanced ballistic missile toward Hawaii around the July 4 Independence Day holiday in the US
A new missile launch - though not expected to reach US territory - would be a brazen slap in the face of the international community, which punished North Korea with new UN sanctions for conducting a second nuclear test on May 25 in defiance of a UN ban.
North Korea spurned the UN Security Council resolution with threats of war and pledges to expand its nuclear bomb-making program.
The missile now being readied in the North is believed to be a Taepodong-2 with a range of up to 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers), and would be launched from North Korea's Dongchang-ni site on the northwestern coast sometime around July 4, the Yomiuri newspaper said.
It cited an analysis by Japan's Defense Ministry and intelligence gathered by US reconnaissance satellites.