In response, the Pentagon announced it would beef up missile defenses based on the U.S. West Coast, and it highlighted over a period of days the deployment of B-52 and B-2 bombers, as well as two F-22 stealth fighters, to South Korea as part of an annual U.S.-South Korean exercise called Foal Eagle, which lasts through April.
On Tuesday, officials said the Navy was keeping the USS Decatur, a destroyer armed with missile defense systems, in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula for an unspecified period instead of continuing its journey back to the U.S. after a Mideast deployment. And they said a similar ship, the USS McCain, had been shifted slightly to the waters off the southwest coast of the Korean peninsula as a further precautionary move.
North Korea has been an enigma to most outsiders since it was founded by Kim Il Sung in 1948. The United States has often misjudged the North's political path. After the founding Kim died in 1994, for example, U.S. intelligence officials said they believed his successor son, Kim Jong Il, would be more accommodating to the West.
"Flaky as he may be, (Kim Jong Il) nevertheless ... realizes the only way they're going to extricate themselves from the shambles that their economy is in now is to get outside help," James R. Clapper Jr. told a congressional panel in January 1995. Clapper was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the time; today he is President Barack Obama's most senior intelligence adviser as director of national intelligence.
AP broadcast correspondent Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.
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