AP National Security Writer
WASHINGTON - The United States has positioned more missile defenses around Hawaii as a precaution against a possible North Korean launch across the Pacific, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.
"We do have some concerns if they were to launch a missile to the west in the direction of Hawaii," Gates said.
Gates told reporters at the Pentagon he has sent the military's ground-based mobile missile system to Hawaii, and positioned a radar system nearby. Together the systems theoretically could detect and shoot down a North Korean missile if it came to that.
"Without telegraphing what we will do, I would just say ... we are in a good position, should it become necessary, to protect Americans and American territory," Gates said.
A Japanese newspaper reported Thursday that North Korea might fire its most advanced ballistic missile toward Hawaii around the Fourth of July holiday.
A new missile launch - though not expected to reach U.S. territory - would be a brazen slap in the face of the international community, which punished North Korea with new U.N. sanctions for conducting a second nuclear test on May 25 in defiance of a U.N. ban.
North Korea spurned the U.N. Security Council resolution with threats of war and pledges to expand its nuclear bomb-making program.
The missile now being readied in the North is believed to be a Taepodong-2 with a range of up to 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers), and would be launched from North Korea's Dongchang-ni site on the northwestern coast sometime around July 4, Independence Day in U.S., the Yomiuri newspaper said.
It cited an analysis by Japan's Defense Ministry and intelligence gathered by U.S. reconnaissance satellites.