U.S. continues to take North Korean threats seriously

U.S. leaders are taking threats made by North Korea seriously and will make measured responses to Kim Jong Un's rhetoric, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday.

Hagel spoke about North Korea to students at the National Defense University at Fort Lesley J. McNail. Kim recently made threats to shell South Korea's capital and launch missiles at Hawaii, Guam and the western United States. Kim also rescinded an armistice North Korea signed with the U.N. in 1953 to end hostilities on the Korean Peninsula and announced he would restart a nuclear plant to produce more weapons-grade plutonium and uranium.

"It only takes being wrong once, and I don't want to be the secretary of defense that was wrong once," Hagel said. "We will continue to take these threats seriously. I hope the North will ratchet this very dangerous rhetoric down."

Officials have urged North Korea to abide by agreements for decades to end provocations against South Korea and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The government has not listened and international sanctions have led to millions of North Korean children suffering from malnutrition.

Hagel said the world is willing to help the impoverished nation, but the country must be a responsible member of the world community first.

"As they have ratcheted up their dangerous, bellicose rhetoric, (North Korea presents) a real and clear danger and threat (to American allies and the U.S. homeland itself)," Hagel said. "I think we have taken measured responses to those threats. We are... undergoing joint exercises with the South Koreans now. We are doing everything we can, working with the Chinese and others, to defuse the situation on the peninsula."

On Tuesday, Hagel spoke with new Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Chang Wanquan about working together. One common interest for the U.S. and China is North Korea.

"Certainly, the Chinese don't want a complicated and combustible situation to explode into a worse situation," Hagel said. "It's not in their interests for that to happen. It's certainly not in our interest or our allies' interests."