Nightly News   |  April 09, 2013

US prepares to defend allies against North Korea

South Koreans expect Pyongyang to launch a medium-range missile near the border as North Korea warned foreigners in South Korea to be prepared to evacuate. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. we're in the rather unusual situation tonight of being on standby for the launch of a north korean missile. in any event it will be a test launch apparently and allegedly not intended as a provocation or act of war but tempers are on a hair trigger because of all the threatening talk of late from this young, inexperienced leader not yet 30 years old who recently took over when his father died. there are a lot of questions about what north korea has planned, what they're going to launch, what it will carry, how far it will fly. we'll go live to seoul, south korea . richard, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. all signs are north korea is putting on a dangerous show. we traveled to the dmz and saw no indications that a conflict is coming but north korea isn't walking away from this. not yet. the border today as cold as relations between the two koreas. south korean troops patroled the so-called demilitarize zone, the dmz , that is also a hair trigger between enemies. on one side at least 30,000 south korean troops backed by almost 30,000 american forces on the peninsula.

>>> across the valley part of north korea 's million man army. we are required to wear uniforms to blend in to avoid raising suspicion, the first journalists to visit this remote outpost. this is one of the most militarized borders in the world and because of the latest tension south korean forces have been ordered to a heightened state of readiness. here that means watching for suspicious activity by north korean forces. south korean officials do expect pyongyang to launch a medium-range missile miles from here, perhaps very soon. a show of course not everyone takes seriously.

>> north korea has loaded two missiles on to launchers on its east coast and is threatening to fire them at the united states so let this be a warning to you, middle of the ocean.

>> reporter: if a missile does head out to sea, the u.s. is unlikely to shoot it down. but if it takes a more threatening path the u.s. says it's prepared.

>> i believe we have the credible ability to defend the homeland, to defend hawaii, defend guam, our forces and our allies.

>> reporter: north korea is keeping tensions high. today, warning foreigners in south korea to be prepared to evacuate. more bluster, south koreans suspect, but here in the dmz the south is ready just in case. south korean officials tell us they expect the missile to be launched and land in the water between japan and guam. now we're all waiting for that splash, brian.

>> our chief foreign correspondent richard engel live in seoul, south korea for us tonight. thanks.