Nightly News   |  April 01, 2013

‘Belligerent’ North Korea ratchets up rhetoric

Most people in Seoul, South Korea think North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is bluffing, but the question is “why?” Experts say Jong-un is in the process of consolidating power and planning to eliminate his rivals. NBC’s Richard Engel reports from Seoul, South Korea.

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>>> past few days the u.s. has flown over south korea with stealth bombers . now they have sent stealth fighters and a guided missile destroyer . it's all because no one likes what they are hearing from north korea , the leader there. and no one knows what it means or how serious he is about his threats including the current declaration of a state offer with a. he's believed to be 28, 29 years old. he's young and untested. today leon panetta said the u.s. must be prepared and very concerned because we cannot know kim jong un's motivations and intentions. it's because of that the u.s. is going ahead with a military statement of its own tonight. our chief foreign correspondent richard engel has reach eed seoul , south korea .

>> reporter: good evening, brian. kim jong un is playing a game which the u.s. is meeting with force. military exercises by u.s. and south korean forces. a display of american f-22 stealth fighter jets. a u.s. navy destroyer prepared to shoot own a north korean missile if necessary. overflights by b-2 stealth bombers and b-52s capable of carrying american nukes. an angry north korea released an animation showing the planes being shot down. in fact, if you watch north korea state tv, the country looks like it's at war. pictures of u.s. soldiers used for target practice. absolute leader kim jong un says he's put north korea 's missiles at the ready calling his nuclear weapons the nation's life. secretary of defense hagel calls the north belligerent.

>> it has ratcheted up the danger.

>> reporter: south korea 's president says she will respond to force with force. but it was calm here in seoul today. it's all bark, they say -- no bite.

>> i really don't think people are thinking they are going to come actually attack us because, you know, america has our back.

>> reporter: most people in seoul think the north is bluffing. the question is why. experts say kim jong un is in the process of consolidating power and he's generating a crisis to whip his people up into a wartime patriotic frenzy so they will rally around the leader while he eliminates rivals. he's threatening war to clean house . there are big changes under way. look at this video from late 2011 , the funeral of kim jong il . the hearse surrounded by his hand-picked successors. since then nearly all have fallen from favor except kim jong un. the world's last stalinist state talking war to stay in power. pyongyang's secrecy makes the old soviet kremlin look transpare transparent. north korea appears to want to pick a fight. the u.s. says if it comes to that it's ready. brian?

>> richard, thanks.