Nightly News   |  April 11, 2013

North Korea missile launch could come at any time, U.S. officials say

Both the U.S. and Japan have defense systems ready should North Korea’s missiles pose a threat. NBC’s Richard Engel reports.

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>>> and making history. what's a 14-year-old 8th grader doing at the mastersmasters? the short answer? he's competing in it because he's earned the right to. "nightly news" begins now.

>>> good evening. there's been a slow drum beat for days as the world waits for a widely predicted test launch of a missile by north korea . intelligence experts who are looking at things like fuelling procedures say it could now come at any time. and then today in the midst of all of this we learned with many caveats what north korea may be capable of. a member of congress for the first time in an open hearing read a now unclassified study by our own defense intelligence agency . they can now say with moderate confidence, quote, the north currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivering by ballistic missiles . and while it adds that reliability will be low, while north korea has struggled with the technology it did nothing to reduce the hair trigger right now surrounding north korea . it's where we begin again tonight. we have two reports. andrea mitchell has just arrived in the region, but first our chief foreign correspondent richard engel starts us off once again from seoul, south korea . richard, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. as we have been reporting for days that north korea can put a nuclear weapon on a missile is what makes this story important and not just bizarre. no signs that the missiles that north korea could launch really at any time are armed with anything but it's about demonstrating intent and capacity. patriotic celebrations in pyongyang today. and more heated rhetoric. north korea saying all it has to do now is push a button and the stro strongholds. more likely the ocean will be the target. u.s. officials say pyongyang has two musudan-type missiles likely unarmed, loaded on mobile launches near the border, filled with liquid fuel more than 36 hours ago. the u.s. and japan have defense systems ready should the missiles pose a threat.

>> the united states will take all necessary steps to protect its people and to meet our obligations under our ohalliances in the region.

>> reporter: showing force here is everything. among the tense militarized dmz where north and south korean soldiers stand arms apart the two armies post their tallest, biggest men. appearances mattere, as they did when kim jong un came to power a year ago today. we were there for his first speech, the parades, the military roll outs. a little bit of oh show biz and plenty of oh goose stepping . since then kim has proven more reckless than his father. he has more to prove to his generals.

>> i think it is to show he is firmly in control in north korea .

>> reporter: there is another way to look at this crisis. unb like south korea which has a modern economy, north korea barely exports anything except missile and nuclear technology . experts here say the missile test is also something of a product demonstration for rogue states that want to buy. that includes iran. u.s. military officials believe pyongyang and tehran may collaborate on their nuclear programs. leaked diplomatic cables say north korea sold missiles to iran. north korea shows off its weapons at least in part it seems, for wash. richard engel , nbc news, seoul.