Nightly News   |  April 10, 2013

North Korea threatens to use nuclear weapons

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described North Korea’s actions and “bellicose rhetoric” as “skating very close to a dangerous line.”  NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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>>> nerves are on a hair trigger again tonight over north korea . the u.s., south korea , japan, all anxiously awaiting that nation's expected launch of a missile trajectory unknown, u.s. defense secretary chuck hagel said today the situation is combustible, our chief foreign correspondent richard engel joins us once again tonight live from seoul, south korea . richard, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. the launch window is now open but what's happening here as implications far greater than that. north korea is showing that because of its weapons, it can't be contained. at the dmz this morning, tensions are peaking. south korean troops guard buildings used for negotiations with pyongyang, now empty. north korean soldier is seen just yards away, until he sees us filming. the entire region is on edge. in japan, the defense minister inspected missile defenses around tokyo. jumpy officials in yokohama had to apologize after accidentally tweeting that north korea had launched a missile. north korea itself seems to be living on another planet. people dancing in the streets, a state-sponsored mass waltz, even as the government said the situation is inching toward thermonuclear war.

>> north korea has been with its belicose rhetoric, its skating toward a dangerous line.

>> reporter: analysts say north korea may be trying to deliberately drag this out. this is its moment the time to show the world it's armed and dangerous , more than a small dictatorship locked away with sanctions and ignored. north korea has hijacked the world's attention but why does it matter if they test a missile or not? because they have nuclear weapons , and they're threatening to use them. the u.s. has been forced to react, canceling a missile test of its own, moving warships to the region but still unable to deter pyongyang. other states with nuclear programs, particularly iran, are taking note.

>> what north korea teaches us is that once a rogue regime has a nuclear weapon we have not figured out how to reliably contain it, how to protect americans, or how to protect our allies.

>> reporter: north korea threatening to use its trump card , bluffing a superpower, perhaps proving nuclear threats work. for years, the u.s. has been trying to convince states, including iran, that they're safer without nuclear weapons . north korea is trying to prove us wrong. brian?

>> richard engel remains in seoul,