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US not to shoot down NKorean missile: Gates

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday a missile launch by North Korea appeared imminent but that the United States would not shoot it down.

world Updated: Mar 29, 2009 20:35 IST

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday a missile launch by North Korea appeared imminent but that the United States would not shoot it down.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Gates appeared to contradict Admiral Timothy Keating, head of the US Pacific Command, who had reportedly said the military was ready to shoot down the missile if given the order.

"I think if we had a missile that was heading for Hawaii, that looked like it was headed for Hawaii or something like that, we might consider it. I don't think we have any plans to do anything like that at this point," Gates said.

Asked if the launch was set to happen, the Pentagon chief said: "I think it probably will." "I would say we're not prepared to do anything about it," he added, following Keating's remark in an interview with ABC News.

Gates said the US government believed the launch was "intended as a mask for the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile," but that this type of missile did not have the range to reach Alaska.

It was North Korea's "long-term intent" to arm such a missile with a nuclear warhead, he added. "I personally would be skeptical that they have the ability right now to do that."

Asked if Japan might shoot down the missile, Gates cited media reports to say that "if that missile fails and it looks like it's going to drop debris on Japan, that they might take some action."

The Pentagon chief said the missile development was "very troubling" and said six-party talks on disarming North Korea's nuclear program "really have not made any headway any time recently."

"If this is (North Korea leader) Kim Jong-Il's welcoming present to a new (US) president, launching a missile like this and threatening to have a nuclear test, I think it says a lot about the imperviousness of this regime in North Korea to any kind of diplomatic overtures."