U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is calling the situation in North Korea "dangerous" but he says American forces are capable of dealing with the challenge even while focused on Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld says North Korea poses a threat not only because it already has one or two nuclear weapons but also because it has the potential to make another six to eight in a relatively short period of time.
Appearing before Congress, Mr. Rumsfeld warns that North Korea could sell those weapons, just as it already sells ballistic missile technology to "terrorist states or terrorist organizations."
But he says the United States is working with South Korea to deter any possible aggression, even as the Pentagon prepares for a possible war with Baghdad.
"To the extent the world thinks the United States is focused on problems in Iraq, it's conceivable someone could make a mistake and believe that's an opportunity for them to take action which they otherwise would have avoided. We have to see that we are arranged and it's clear to the world that it's not an opportune time," he said.
Although the Bush administration has said it is working for a diplomatic resolution of the latest crisis with North Korea, the Pentagon has taken some precautionary moves.
Two dozen long-range bombers have been put on standby for possible deployment to Guam. In addition, Pentagon sources have said fighters and other military resources already in the Pacific might be moved closer to South Korea.
Appearing with Mr. Rumsfeld at a hearing of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on the administration's latest defense budget proposals was the Chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers.
He told lawmakers the armed forces are fully capable of dealing with two distinct threats like Iraq and North Korea at the same time.