WASHINGTON -- The United States would not shoot down a missile that Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) was expected to launch soon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in an interview to be aired on Sunday.
Gates told "Fox News Sunday" that the launch was likely to happen soon but the US military was not prepared to "do anything about it."
His remarks were made after Timothy Keating, who leads the US Pacific Command, said in an interview with ABC News that the US military was ready to shoot down the missile if given the order.
"I think if we had a missile that was heading for Hawaii, that looked like it was headed for Hawaii or something like that, we might consider it," said Gates. "I don't think we have any plans to do anything like that at this point."
The DPRK has announced that it would launch a communications satellite between April 4-8. But the United States, Japan and South Korea suspected that it might be a long-range ballistic Taepodong-2 missile.
Gates said that although the launch was "intended as a mask for the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile," this type of missile could not reach Alaska.
The US government believed that DPRK carried a long-term intent to put a nuclear warhead atop a missile but he personally doubted about the country's ability to do it right now, the Pentagon chief added.
On Iran, Gates said in the interview that he believed economic penalties on Iran were more likely to bring success to the United States than diplomacy.
However, he also doubted that Iran was close to obtaining a nuclear weapon since it still lacked capabilities to enrich enough uranium to the levels needed for a weapon at the moment.
In the same interview, Gates also commented on President Barack Obama's newly-announced strategy for Afghanistan, saying that it has narrowed the short-term objectives for US troops in the country, including reversing the Taliban's momentum, strengthening the Afghan army and police, and going after al-Qaeda.
A flourishing democracy in Afghanistan remained a long-term goal for the United States, he noted.