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US can defend itself from N Korea missile attack: Pentagon

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North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and numerous missile launches in 2016.

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AFP, Washington :
 The United States is certain it can defend itself from an attack by North Korea, the Defense Department said Tuesday after Pyongyang warned it was close to test launching a ballistic missile.
"We remain confident in our ballistic missile defense and in our defense of our allies and our defense of the homeland," Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said at a news briefing.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, in a New Year's speech Sunday, said the country was "in the final stages of test-launching the intercontinental ballistic missile."
In 2016, North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and numerous missile launches last year alone in its quest to develop a nuclear weapons system capable of hitting the US mainland.
"We would once again call on the North Koreans to refrain from provocative actions," Cook said.
Analysts are divided over how close Pyongyang is to realizing its full nuclear ambitions, especially since it has never successfully test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
US President-elect Donald Trump, who will take office on January 20, dismissed Pyongyang's missile claims late on Monday.
"North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US," Trump tweeted. "It won't happen!"
North Korea's drive to develop nuclear ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States and its allies has prompted Washington to reinforce its antimissile defenses in the region.
The defense strategy is based notably on the AEGIS system, powerful TPY-2 radars and the antiballistic missile system THAAD that Washington is relocating to South Korea, a move that has provoked China, North Korea's main ally.
The Pentagon spokesman declined to comment to reporters on whether the US had prepared scenarios on deterrent military actions to stop North Korea from developing nuclear missiles.
"We're constantly adjusting to the threat North Korea poses," Cook said.
Pyongyang "has shown disregard to the international community for its international obligations," he said. "And we're watching this very, very carefully."
US President Barack Obama will make a short but politically charged trip from the White House to Capitol Hill Wednesday, calling allied lawmakers to arms in defense of his signature healthcare reforms.
Obama's eight-year drive to extend medical coverage to tens of millions of Americans will come under sustained assault when President-elect Donald Trump takes office January 20 with Republican majorities in both house of Congress.
In a preemptive strike, the outgoing president will meet Senate and House Democrats, "principally (to) discuss how to counter the stated Republican objective of repealing the Affordable Care Act," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Meanwhile, Obama's rare legislative pilgrimage coincides with a dueling visit to the Congress by Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
"We're focused on repealing and replacing Obamacare," Pence said Tuesday. "We look forward to legislation that will give us the tools to roll back the avalanche of red tape and regulation that have been stifling American jobs."
After a crushing election loss, Democrats may have limited options for stalling reforms without significant Republican defections.
They also face criticism that Obama's reforms have led to rising insurance premiums and a string of technical problems.
But while Republican opposition to Obamacare is clear, their prescription to fix it is not.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has proposed a tax credit system as a possible replacement, but the costs to government and individuals remains vague.

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