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North Korea has been, with its bellicose rhetoric, with its actions, … skating very close to a dangerous line,” Hagel said. “Their actions and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation.”

The United States is “fully prepared to deal with any contingency, any action that North Korea may take or any provocation that they may instigate,” Hagel said.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said data on North Korea’s capability to make a small warhead for a missile is classified.

“But they have conducted two nuclear tests,” he said during an appearance with Hagel. “They have conducted several successful ballistic missile launches, and in the absence of concrete evidence to the contrary, we have to assume the worst case. And that’s why we’re postured as we are today.”

Hagel described North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “unpredictable.”

“As to should the American people be concerned about their safety and security, we have every capacity to deal with any action that North Korea would take to protect this country and the interests of this country and our allies,” Hagel said.

Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that U.S. missile defenses are capable of stopping North Korean missile attacks on the continental United States, Hawaii, Guam, and regional bases in Asia.

Locklear said he would recommend shooting down any North Korean missile launches in the coming days that threatens the U.S. homeland or U.S. allies.

However, Locklear said he would not recommend downing a missile if it does not pose a threat. As Pacific commander, Locklear has the final say in ordering the use of missile defenses against foreign missiles.

Intelligence and warning indicators are expected to provide commanders with a sense of where the North Korean missiles are aimed. Without the indicators, sensors can quickly provide a flight path and landing point, Locklear said.

The four-star admiral said China is a critical player in reining in North Korea, noting: “I think that they could do more.”

Chinese leader Xi Jinping issued a vague statement on Monday calling on states in the region not to create instability, a comment widely viewed as a rebuke of North Korea.

A state-controlled Chinese news outlet for the first time on Wednesday specifically criticized North Korea. The jingoistic Global Times, an official Communist Party-affiliated newspaper, stated in an editorial that whatever the cause for moves toward war on the Korean peninsula, “North Korea has overdone it.”

The editorial then went on to criticize the United States as responsible for growing tensions along with South Korea. The editorial also accused Japan of exploiting the tensions as a way to develop its missile defenses.