Administration Suddenly on Alert About 'Bellicose' North Korea

Through President Obama's first term, the administration stubbornly resisted repeated calls from Congress to put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

This despite persistent reports that North Korea continues to provides missile and nuclear technology to Iran as well as Hezbollah and Hamas, weapons caches from North Korea discovered in the hands of the Gadhafi regime after its fall, assistance to the Syrian regime, missile and nuclear tests in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, abductions of foreign citizens, shoot-to-kill orders against citizens trying to escape the country, and countless human rights violations.

"This is a critical moment for our allies in Asia, and the United States must reaffirm its unwavering support for South Korea and Japan as they continue to live under the increasing threat of a nuclear North Korea," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said last month as she introduced the North Korea Sanctions and Diplomatic Nonrecognition Act of 2013.

"Kim Jong-un has made his priorities clear: to obtain a nuclear weapon and to proliferate nuclear technology with rogue regimes, such as Iran and Syria," she added.

But an administration unwilling to put Pyongyang on a provocative list is suddenly responding and shoring up defenses in the face of provocations from 30-year-old dictator Kim Jong-un.

Two weeks ago, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced ground-based missile interceptors in California and Alaska were being brought online to protect against a long-range attack from North Korea. Pyongyang claimed through its official media this week that it's put into combat posture "long-range artillery units strategic rocket units that will target all enemy object in U.S. invasionary bases on its mainland, Hawaii and Guam."

Today, the U.S. took a couple of B-2 stealth bomber practice runs over South Korea -- a message Washington branded a defensive drill and the North called invasion prep.

At today's Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the B-2 flight was simply part of run-of-the-mill joint exercises with Seoul.

"I think their very provocative actions and belligerent tone, it has ratcheted up the danger, and we have to understand that reality," Hagel said of the North. "We -- the United States, South Koreans, all of the nations in -- in that region of the world -- are committed to a pathway to peace. And the North Koreans seem to be headed in a different direction here. So we will unequivocally defend and we are unequivocally committed to that alliance with South Korea, as well as our other allies in that region of the world. And we will be prepared -- we have to be prepared to deal with any eventuality there."

"…We have to take seriously every provocative, bellicose word and action that this new, young leader has taken so far since he's come to power."

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said Washington isn't concerned as much with the North's reaction to the B-2 exercise as that of other actors in the region.

"The reaction to the B-2 that we're most concerned about is not necessarily the reaction it might elicit in North Korea, but rather among our Japanese and Korean allies," Dempsey said. "You know, those exercises are mostly to assure our allies that they can count on us to be prepared and to help them deter conflict."

Hagel said "the North Koreans have to understand that what they're doing is very dangerous."

"And they have some options. They can take another approach to a better future, but what they're doing now is not the way to do that. And we have security issues here that we have to protect and commitments in our security interests," he said. "I don't think we're doing anything extraordinary or provocative or out of the orbit of what nations do to protect their own interests."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest reiterated the word of the day -- "bellicose" -- in giving much the same reason for the B-2 activity at today's press briefing.

"What we have said for quite some time now, in the face of the bellicose rhetoric and threats that have been emanating from the North Koreans, is that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies in South Korea to ensure that their -- that the interests of the United States and the allies of the United States remain protected," Earnest said.