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Adm. Samuel J, Locklear, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command.

Adm. Samuel J, Locklear, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command. (Michael Holzworth/Defense Department)

WASHINGTON — The United States can and will protect itself and its allies from North Korean missiles, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific told Congress on Tuesday.

“We’ve got the capability in place to be able to monitor and protect the homeland … as well as our allies,” Adm. Samuel Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The U.S. would not automatically intercept any missile launched by North Korea, Locklear said, but would intercept missiles aimed at or expected to land in the U.S. or its allies.

“We’re ready,” he said.

Locklear said the U.S. believes North Korea has moved a missile to its east coast, but that it is believed to have a range of about 3,500 miles — so would not put the mainland or Hawaii at risk.

North Korea’s threats against South Korea and the United States have grown increasingly hostile in recent weeks.

Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the committee, said all “guarded optimism about North Korea” that existed after dictator Kim Jong-Il’s dead in December 2011 has dissipated, though he noted that the current regime’s threats “appear to exceed its capabilities.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the relationship between the U.S., South Korea and North Korea seemed the most tense he could remember since the end of the Korean War, and Locklear agreed that he could not recall a time of greater tension.

Locklear also addressed questions about budget cuts and sequestration, saying that the across-the-board cuts have “not limited my ability today” to respond to a North Korean threat.

However, he said, “There’s no doubt that sequestration is having an impact on near-term operational readiness,” and readiness will continue to decline as exercises are canceled and some less-pressing areas are deprioritized. Twitter: @jhlad

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