Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that North Korea’s latest provocations are “a real and clear danger and threat” to U.S. interests and Washington is taking them seriously.

“We are doing everything we can … to defuse that situation on the peninsula,” Hagel said after a speech at the National Defense University at Fort McNair.

“I hope the North will ratchet this very dangerous rhetoric down,” he said, adding that there is a pathway to peace but only if Pyongyang decides to be “a responsible member of the world community.”

The U.S. has responded to the diplomatic crisis with more than words, dispatching two warships to the western Pacific to be on alert for missiles and conducting bomber and fighter flyovers.

Defense officials also said an advanced anti-ballistic missile system will be sent to the U.S. military base in Guam in response to North Korean threats targeting Guam and U.S. military facilities in the region.

The system — which includes missiles, launchers, radar and communications — is expected to arrive within two weeks.

Banning South Korean workers
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shown no inclination to back off yet. The rogue nuclear state’s latest move was banning South Korean workers from the jointly run Kaesong industrial zone.

Seoul said about 800 South Koreans who had stayed overnight at the complex were being allowed to return home, but that new workers were not being allowed across the border.

Kaesong, a major source of income for the impoverished, communist North, is home to 124 South Korean companies that employ 53,000 North Korean workers in a cross-border, heavily fortified joint enterprise. Permission is granted on a daily basis for South Korean workers to cross into the complex, situated in the North, the BBC reported.

“South Korea’s government deeply regrets the entry ban and urges it be lifted immediately,” South Korea official Kim Hyung-seok told reporters Wednesday.

China expressed “serious concern” to U.S. diplomats over the worsening crisis. A Chinese official met ambassadors from the United States and both Koreas, expressing hope that Pyongyang and Seoul could resolve their differences through talks, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, according to Reuters and Voice of America reporter Steve Herman.

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