The United States is 'fully prepared for any contingencies' with North Korea, including a potential missile launch toward US territory, President Barack Obama said in an interview to be aired on Monday.
"This administration -- and our military -- is fully prepared for any contingencies," Obama told CBS when asked about the possibility that North Korea could fire a missile towards Hawaii on or about July 4, the US national holiday.
Asked if that meant Washington was "warning of a military response," Obama answered: "No. It's just we are prepared for any contingencies."
"I don't want to speculate on hypotheticals," he added, according to excerpts released on Sunday.
"But I do want to give assurances to the American people that the T's are crossed and the I's are dotted in terms of what might happen."
His comments came after a Gallup poll released on Thursday suggested that 51 per cent of Americans believe North Korea poses the greatest direct threat to US security, ahead of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The US military has beefed up its Hawaii defenses over fears Pyongyang may launch a missile at the Pacific island chain, and is tracking a North Korean ship possibly carrying banned cargo, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday.
"I would just say I think we are in a good position should it become necessary to protect American territory," the Pentagon chief said, adding that he had approved the deployment to Hawaii of Theatre High Altitude Area Defense weaponry for "support" in case of a North Korean launch.
The THAAD weapons, coupled with a radar system nearby, are designed to shoot down ballistic missiles.
Ground-based defenses in the far northwestern state of Alaska are also ready, Gates said.
South Korea's YTN television news channel, citing an unnamed intelligence source, said the United States suspects that the 2,000-tonne Kang Nam 1 is carrying missiles or related parts, and is heading for Myanmar via Singapore.
A US Navy destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, is tracking the Kang Nam 1, which has been previously linked to illicit missile-related cargo, according to US defense officials.
It is the first vessel to be monitored under a United Nations resolution passed a week ago that bans shipments of arms and nuclear or missile technology to and from North Korea.
US officials have yet to indicate if or when they might ask to search the vessel under the UN Security Council resolution.
The measure calls for inspections of ships if there are "reasonable grounds" that a vessel may be carrying illicit cargo but rules out the use of military force to back up the searches.
In the interview, Obama also said there was strong international consensus against Pyongyang, after it detonated its second nuclear device on May 25 -- following the first one in 2006 -- and went ahead with what Washington called a disguised test of a long-range missile in April.
"More broadly, I think the international community has spoken," Obama said, noting that the UN Security Council has agreed to tighter cargo inspections, a stricter arms embargo and new targeted financial curbs to choke off revenue for the North's nuclear and missile sectors.
"That sends a signal... of a unity in the international community that we haven't seen in quite some time," Obama told CBS.
"And one of the things that we have been very clear about is that North Korea has a path towards rejoining the international community. And we hope they take that path. What we're not going to do is to reward belligerence and provocation in the way that's been done in the past."
Obama on Tuesday called Pyongyang a "grave threat" and vowed to defend South Korea after talks in Washington with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak.
The North in turn accused Obama and Lee of "trying to ignite a nuclear war." "The US-touted provision of 'extended deterrence, including a nuclear umbrella' (for South Korea) is nothing but 'a nuclear war plan,'" the North's state-run weekly Tongil Sinbo said.