US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said that the US would not shoot down a North Korean missile unless it is "threatening", and would rather try to intercept it. He made the remarks during a joint news conference with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Marine Corps Gen Joseph Dunford on Tuesday (10 January).

Carter's remarks follow the announcement by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in his New Year speech that the country is in the final stages of developing long-range missiles that will be capable of hitting the US. Reports have also emerged recently that the reclusive state can test fire an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) any time in the coming days.

Addressing the press conference, Carter said that the defence department's Senior Leadership Council, which includes the leaders of the combatant commands and the services, met today "to discuss how we're ensuring continued preparedness and vigilance in the weeks and months ahead".

He added that the "productive" and "robust" discussion included "countering Russian aggression and North Korean provocation, managing historic change in the Asia-Pacific region, fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [Islamic State], countering Iran's malign influence and protecting the homeland.

On countering North Korean missile threats, he said: "If it's not threatening, we won't necessarily do so. Because it may be more to our advantage to, first of all, save our interceptor inventory, and, second, to gather intelligence from the flight," the BBC reported.

Carter is due to step down as Pentagon chief before 20 January when President-elect Donald Trump takeS charge at the White House.

However, he assured American allies that US' friends around the world "can have confidence, and our adversaries should take heed, that the US military is full speed ahead in the coming weeks and months".

Lauding the US military leadership, Carter said: "America's military deserves only the finest leaders, and we've got them. ... Each of them, I know, will continue to make an important and lasting contribution to the future of our military."

Ash Carter
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the US military will not shoot down North Korean missiles unless they are threatening REUTERS/Yuri Gripas