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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript - North Korea

Interview

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BLITZER: Lots of concerns in Korea, South Korea, to be sure. Kyung Lah in Seoul for us, thank you.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. We're joined by the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It's great to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know your panel had extensive hearings today with the U.S. military commander from the region. The administration, we're told, believes a launch by the North Koreans of missiles could be imminent. What are you hearing?

LEVIN: Well, it could be imminent.

We have to assume there will be a test launch, the way they have tested previous missiles before. That's a totally different story from if there's an attack on a target. For instance, a couple years back, in 2010, North Korea attacked a South Korean ship, killed 46 South Korean sailors. They have attacked with artillery a South Korean island.

So whether this is a test of a missile, which is providing it's not targeted at South Korea or the U.S. or any of our allies, providing it is aimed at the water just as a missile test, that's a very different deal than if it's targeted at us or our allies.

BLITZER: What if it is that worst-case scenario, they do target U.S. allies in South Korea or Japan for that matter? Is the U.S. ready to take military action against North Korea?

LEVIN: We are.

The -- our Pacific commander today said that we are ready, with a variety of responses for the South Koreans or us to choose should there be an attack on South Korea or us. But it's also clear, he said, that we can shoot down a missile that is aimed at us. Those two points were made very clearly this morning by Admiral Locklear, both that we can shoot down a missile if it is targeted at South Korea or at us, but also that we have -- that we will act. And we are ready to act in some proportionate way to an attack by North Korea.

BLITZER: Because as you well know, Senator, in 2010, those two incidents you mentioned when North Korea attacked positions in South Korea, including killing 46 South Korean sailors aboard that warship, there was no retaliation either from South Korea or the United States. What I hear you saying, this time there will be.

LEVIN: This is what the admiral says, and I believe it's true. That is that the North Koreans this time can expect that there will be a response. Now, he didn't lay out what the options are, nor should he in public. But he did say very precisely that this time it would be likely and expected that there would be a response.

Frankly, I think it's obvious that the North Koreans would face some kind of a response, in the words of Admiral Locklear, and this time would not get off without that kind of response. It would be presumably proportionate in some way to what the attack is. We're not going to up the ante and have events spiral out of control, if we can help it. But North Korea's not going to get off scot-free if they attack an American or South Korean or allied target.

BLITZER: As you know, there are 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, another 50,000 troops in Japan, 6,000 on the island of Guam. And it raises questions, have they gone into a heightened state of alert?

LEVIN: Well, we have -- I assume they have. I don't know that for a fact, but I assume that they have.

But we have also taken some other actions. There's been some airplanes that have flown there, flying over South Korea, both B-2s, as well as there's F-22s as well. There are B-52 -- there's a B-52 flight that has gone there. We have some Aegis ships which have gone there, some additional THAAD radars which are in place.

So the United States has responded in kind of a firm way. We haven't used the hot rhetoric that the North Koreans have, the heated rhetoric, which hopefully is bluster. And we, on the other hand, can't assume that it's only bluster. We have to be ready for whatever comes. And we are.

BLITZER: Senator Levin, thanks very much for joining us.

LEVIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Carl Levin is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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