Nightly News   |  April 03, 2013

Will North Korea follow through on nuclear threats?

U.S. officials tell NBC News they believe North Korea does have the capability to put a nuclear weapon on a missile and that they have missile deliverable nukes. Those missiles, however, cannot go more than 1000 miles. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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>>> good evening. as the associated press put it tonight the north korean army is warning washington that its military has been cleared to wage an attack using, quote, smaller and diversified nuclear weapons . further, north korea says its troops have been authorized to counter u.s. aggression. today the u.s. defense secretary said this danger is real and clear and this is certainly another escalation as analysts in this country try to figure out what this young north korean leader is up to. we have two reports to start off tonight. andrea mitchell standing by in washington. we'll want to begin with our chief foreign correspondent richard engel in seoul , south korea . richard, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. as north korea made what appears to be its most explicit threats so far, the united states said it is sending an advanced anti- ballistic missile system to guam in the pacific. responsibility for what happens next, according to north korea , sits with the united states . north korea 's military declared today it had, quote, final approval to launch merciless strikes on the united states , including the use of nuclear weapons possibly within days. just hours earlier, the secretary of defense criticized what he called north korea 's dangerous rhetoric.

>> some of the actions they have taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger. we take those threats seriously. we have to take those threats seriously.

>> reporter: but can north korea make good on its threats? u.s. officials tell nbc news they believe the north can put a nuclear weapon on a missile, that they have missiles, deliverable nukes, but not ones that could go more than 1,000 miles and reach the united states or south asia . but south korea and u.s. forces there would be in range. and today the north severed a crucial tie with the south, turning away trucks and workers from the kaesong industrial park . a rare joint effort that until now had been allowed to continue. in seoul where people tried to shrug off the crisis, there are deep concerns. polls say two-thirds of south koreans want this country to have nuclear weapons . but that would spark an immediate crisis with the north and the risk of nuclear proliferation across asia. secretary of state kerry coming here next week is already sending a message.

>> the last thing the world needs is more nuclear nations .

>> reporter: but south koreans worry about the new young leader in the north. north korea can't realize its threat to attack the mainland united states with a nuclear weapon , but does have more capacity than u.s. officials like to admit. brian?

>> richard engel starting us off again. seoul , south korea . richard,