PACOM head to Congress: North Korea 'clearly' a threat to Hawaii

Published: Apr. 26, 2017 at 5:47 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 27, 2017 at 10:48 AM HST
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WASHINGTON D.C. (HawaiiNewsNow) - North Korea is "clearly" in a position to threaten Hawaii, and the state could benefit from additional protections against an attack, the head of U.S. Pacific Command told Congress on Wednesday.

In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, PACOM Commander Adm. Harry Harris said Hawaii is protected against inter-continental ballistic missiles by interceptors in California and Alaska. But, he added, if the North launches a number of missiles in an attack, military leaders would have to decide "which ones to take out or not."

And in theory, he said, the systems of protection could be "overwhelmed."

"We have 'x' number of interceptors that can shoot down 'y' number of targets. If the opposition fired 'y plus one' then that's at least one that would get through," he said, adding, "I believe that our ballistic missile architecture is sufficient to protect Hawaii today."

Harris also said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "is clearly in a position to threaten Hawaii today, in my opinion."

Harris wants Hawaii to have its own defensive radar and suggested studying the possibility of installing interceptor missiles in the state.

Hawaii's U.S. representatives, who both serve on the committee, say they are looking at what technology best suits the state. They say the U.S. must also work with other countries to exhaust diplomatic solutions.

"If there's anyone who has the ability to bring North Korea to the table, it would be China because of the clear links, especially economic links," said U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, said she believes the recent U.S. airstrike in Syria sent North Korea the wrong message.

"(North Korea) will use that as their excuse to continue to build their nuclear program, so there are consequences and real costs to our policies and our actions," Gabbard said.

The House hearing on North Korea comes as the United States seeks to tamp down talk of military action against the unpredictable adversary. On Wednesday, the Trump administration told lawmakers that it will apply economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

But officials also announced that South Korea had started installing key parts of a contentious U.S. missile defense system that also has sparked Chinese and Russian concerns.

Harris told Congress on Wednesday the system would be operational within days. He said any North Korean missile fired at U.S. forces would be destroyed.

"If it flies, it will die," Harris said.

The Trump administration has said all options, including a military strike, are on the table. But the administration's statement after briefing senators Wednesday outlined a similar approach to the Obama administration's focus on pressuring Pyongyang to return to long-stalled denuclearization talks. Trump's top national security advisers said they were "open to negotiations" with the North, though they gave no indication of when or under what circumstances.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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