TODAY   |  April 12, 2013

Pentagon: N. Korea likely can launch nuclear missiles

Pentagon intelligence has assessed that North Korea likely does have the ability to launch nuclear missiles, which raises the stakes for John Kerry, who just landed in South Korea, to find a diplomatic way out of the crisis. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> the trip to seoul is a first for secretary of state john kerry . it comes at a time of great tension in the region.

>> secretary kerry met with south korea 's president, and labeled the ongoing rhetoric from north korea as "unacceptable." we get to andrea mitchell in seoul . andr andrea, good morning to you.

>> reporter: good morning, matt. that pentagon assessment that you spoke of is the first assessment from an official source that north korea might have a nuclear armed missile that it could launch but it has not been fully tested. still it raises the temperature just as secretary kerry is arriving here seeking a diplomatic solution out of this crisis. the secretary of state is in seoul to tell south korea the u.s. will defend it against any attack, hoping this country's new president its first woman leader won't retaliate or be provoked into an accidental response even as the president and the u.s. secretary-general discuss how to get north korea to back down.

>> now is the time for north korea to end the kind of belligerent approach that they've been taking and to try to lower temperatures.

>> reporter: but u.s. officials tell nbc news pyongyang's missiles are locked and loaded, fueled and ready to go, likely not armed but military intelligence , the defense intelligence agency or dia has told congress north korea is probably capable of firing nuclear armed missiles, if it wants to.

>> general, would you agree with that assessment by dia?

>> i can't it up that one. hasn't been released, some of it is classified, some of it is unclassified.

>> the pentagon mislabeled what it gave congress. the alarming report was supposed to remain secret, kim jong -un could possible unleash the world's most powerful weapon but would he?

>> i think his primary objective is to consolidate, confirm his power.

>> we are all united in the fact that north korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power .

>> reporter: kerry said president obama has deliberately canceled some military exercises to try to lower the rhetoric. he said whether or not there is a diplomatic way out is now up to one person, kim jong -un. matt?

>> andrea mitchell in seoul , south korea , thanks, as always.