U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) gestures next to South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se during a joint news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul April 12, 2013. REUTERS/Paul J. Richards/Pool (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: POLITICS)
SEOUL -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned North Korea on Friday that it would be a "huge mistake" to test launch a medium-range missile and said the United States would never accept the reclusive country as a nuclear power.
Addressing reporters after talks with South Korea's president and leaders of the 28,000-strong U.S. military contingent in the country, Kerry also said it was up to China, North Korea's sole major ally, to "put some teeth" into efforts to press Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Kerry, like other U.S. officials, played down an assessment from the Pentagon's intelligence agency that North Korea already had a nuclear missile capacity.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, "I want to be clear that North Korea has not demonstrated the capability to deploy a nuclear-armed missile."
Kerry said the United States wanted to resume talks about North Korea's earlier pledges to halt its nuclear program.
But Kerry added that the United States would defend its allies in the region if necessary, and pointedly said Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, "needs to understand, as I think he probably does, what the outcome of a conflict would be."
North Korea has said it will not abandon nuclear weapons that it called on Friday its "treasured" guarantor of security.
Kerry's visit coincided with preparations for Monday's anniversary of North Korean state founder Kim Il-Sung's birth date, a possible pretext for a show of strength, with speculation focusing on a possible new missile test launch.
Kerry, due to fly to China today and to Japan on Sunday, said if North Korea's 30-year-old leader went ahead with the launch, "he will be choosing, wilfully, to ignore the entire international community."
"I would say ahead of time that it is a huge mistake for him to choose to do that because it will further isolate his country and further isolate his people, who frankly are desperate for food, not missile launches."
North Korea has issued weeks of threats of an impending war following the imposition of U.N. sanctions in response to its third nuclear test in February. Kerry said the threats were "simply unacceptable" by any standard.
"We are all united in the fact that North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear power," he said.
Kerry later told U.S. executives in Seoul that China, as an advocate of denuclearisation, was in a position to press for a change in North Korea's policy.
"The reality is that if your policy is denuclearization and it is theirs as it is ours, as it is everybody's except the North at this moment ... if that's your policy, you've got to put some teeth into it," he told the gathering.