The "umbrella" of the U.S. nuclear deterrent and missile defense remains firmly in place over America's allies in Asia in the face of recent threats from North Korea, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said Monday.
The pledge does not appear to have stopped either South Korea or Japan from readying their own missile defenses against a possible strike by Pyongyang, raising the tension throughout northeast Asia.
"We will continue to provide the extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella and will ensure that all of its capabilities remain available" to U.S. allies, Mr. Carter told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, according to prepared remarks posted on the Pentagon's website.
He also pledged that the U.S. "rebalance" to Asia was "not in jeopardy," as the Pentagon faces automatic, across-the-board reductions in planned spending growth now totaling a $1 trillion or so over 10 years.
Indeed, Mr. Carter said the rebalance effort will "gain momentum" in the next decade, an element of the speech picked up on by the official Chinese media.
He reiterated U.S. determination "to strengthen our missile defenses in order to keep ahead of North Korean ballistic missile development." He also noted the deployment over the past few days of both sea- and land-based U.S. missile defenses in the region, "where they are poised to respond to any missile threats to our allies or our territory."
Despite such reassurances, both South Korea and Japan have been deploying their own missile defenses, a move likely to be closely watched in Beijing, which relies on its nuclear missiles for strategic deterrence.
Japanese Patriot missile-defense systems were set up at three sites around Tokyo early Tuesday, ahead of a possible missile launch by North Korea later this week, media reports from the capital said.
Last week, South Korea deployed two radar-equipped Aegis destroyers — one on each side of the peninsula. The destroyers can detect and track a missile launch, according to Arirang TV News.
South Korea's ground-based Green Pine radar and Peace Eye early warning and control aircraft are also being deployed to watch for a possible launch, Arirang reported.
Pyongyang has warned diplomats and all other foreigners in the country that their safety cannot be guaranteed after April 10, leading some analysts to predict another provocative move such as a missile launch after weeks of saber-rattling rhetoric.
The North last week moved two Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles to a test site on the East coast.
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