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Mr Carter, who will be leaving office in less than a fortnight, told NBC’s Meet the Press the US would be prepared to shoot down a missile “..if it were coming towards our territory or the territory of our friends and allies.”
North Korea’s news agency KCNA had earlier said: “The US is wholly to blame for pushing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to have developed (an) ICBM as it has desperately resorted to anachronistic policy hostile toward the DPRK for decades to encroach upon its sovereignty and vital rights.
“Anyone who wants to deal with the DPRK would be well advised to secure a new way of thinking after having clear understanding of it.”
It follows comments made by the country’s leader Kim Jong-Un on New Year’s Day in which he indicated that a launch could be close.
Over the past year North Korea has carried out a series of missile launches and has tested two nuclear weapons, most recently in September 2016.
American experts say this has led to a “qualitative” improvement in the country’s nuclear and missile capabilities.
If North Korea is able to put the technologies together it could produce a weapon which could threaten Hawaii or the US west coast.
However, while a test launch may be close it is likely to take North Korea years to perfect a weapon.
ICBMs can travel up to 10,000km (6,200 miles). The west coast of the United States is around 9,000km (5,500 miles) from North Korea.
Last Monday Donald Trump responded to suggestions that North Korea might try to test an ICBM which could hit America.
The President-elected tweeted: “It won’t happen!”