Nightly News   |  April 12, 2013

Kerry to North Korea: launch would be ‘huge mistake’

Secretary of State John Kerry issued a stern warning Friday, telling Kim Jong-un North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> good evening. and now it gets interesting. the u.s. secretary of state , john kerry , is on the ground now in seoul, south korea , not far from the border and the north. all eyes have been on them for days. we have been told they have at least one missile fuelled and ready for a test firing. the stakes remain the same. even before any test launch at least part of north korea 's goal has been achieved. they have the attention of much of the world. it's where we begin again tonight. before we hear from richard engel let's hear from our chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell in seoul tonight. andrea, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. secretary kerry issued a stern warning to kim jong un today saying that launching a missile would be a huge mistake while also offering him a face-saving way out of the crisis. at the same time kerry had to deal with that intelligence report suggesting that north korea may have already created a way to build a bomb small enough to be mounted on a missile. john kerry arrived here promising to defend south korea and japan unconditionally and warning north korea 's young leader this is a fight he can't win.

>> kim jong un needs to understand, as i think he probably does, what the outcome of a conflict would be.

>> reporter: at the same time kerry and south korea 's new president promised peace talks and economic ties if north korea gives up its nuclear weapons .

>> so it is up to kim jong un what he decides to do.

>> reporter: kim's military is the fourth largest in the world. but it is soviet-built, aging rapidly. one reason he's pushing for nuclear weapons .

>> we are all united in the fact that north korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power .

>> reporter: pyongyang has had nuclear weapons for at least a decade and may now have one small enough to be delivered on a missile. an alarming assessment by the defense intelligence agency or d.i.a. blurted out thursday by a congressman on the armed services committee .

>> general, would you agree with that assessment by d.i.a. ?

>> i can't touch that one. because i'm not sure now -- hasn't been released.

>> reporter: the d.i.a. report was supposed to be kept classified but someone at the spy agency forgot to label it properly. today kerry and other officials insisted there is no proof north korea has the ability to put a nuclearer warhead on a missile that could be successfully launched, reenter the atmosphere and hit a target.

>> obviously they have conduct add nuclear test . so there is some kind of device, but that is very different from miniaturezation and delivery.

>> reporter: who can get through to north korea ? its closest ally is china where kerry is headed next amid signs that beijing may be growing weary of its increasingly reckless neighbor.

>> they've got to try to defuse the situation. they can do that, it seems to me, by exercising more pressure on the economic relief that they provide to north korea .

>> reporter: but so far china has only stepped up its criticism of kim, not using its real power to stop him from carrying out threats. as secretary kerry heads to beijing he wants to see real action from china, not words.