ARLINGTON, Va. — A top Pentagon official said Thursday that a North Korean missile launch would be “a provocation and a dangerous action” that would lead to the United States imposing “some cost” on North Korea.

Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, told a House Armed Services Committee hearing that he did not know if such a launch would happen. But if it did, he said, “I think there would be a reaction. I think, frankly, it would be a mistake for the North Koreans to do it.”

A second senior Defense official downplayed speculation that U.S. missile defenses might try to shoot down any missile test-fired from North Korea.

“If there’s a test in which a missile goes up, for example, and goes into the ocean or whatever, would that necessarily be a trigger for our defensive systems? No, it wouldn’t be,” he said.

Right now, U.S. missile defenses are capable of providing a “limited defense of the United States,” the official said.

Asked if he meant the U.S. missile defenses were unable to protect other countries, he said he would not get into the missile defense system’s capabilities.

The official also would not say whether U.S. missile defenses could protect U.S. territories in the Pacific, such as Guam.

“I do not intend to try to take you down to this country, that territory, this space,” he said.

The official said the U.S. military would use “any capability it had” to protect the American people but stopped short of saying it would shoot down any missile heading toward the United States.

Media outlets have reported that the U.S. military’s land-based missile defense system has become operational amid reports that North Korea may be planning to test a long-range missile.

Additionally, two of the Navy’s three warships equipped with anti-ballistic missiles are participating in a test of their missile defense systems off the Hawaiian Islands, another Defense official said.

The test was planned before reports emerged that North Korea was planning to test a long-range missile, the official said.

The cruisers involved with the test are equipped with SM-3 missiles, which are capable of intercepting “intermediate range ballistic missile threats in the midcourse phase of flight,” said Christopher Taylor, a spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency.

By 2009, 18 ships should be equipped with the SM-3 missiles, Taylor said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

“We are building a multi-layered missile defense, to defend the United States, its allies and friends and forces forward deployed, from threats in all ranges and phases of flight,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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