As a belligerent North Korea gives mixed signals about its intentions, Sen. John McCain on Monday urged the U.S. to be prepared to shoot down any missile that leaves North Korean airspace.
The hawkish Republican senator made the call in a brief statement Monday afternoon. So far, Pyongyang has not gone through with a missile launch, despite expectations among some that the regime could mark the anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth with such a launch.
"As the world waits to see whether North Korea will act on its threat to test launch a medium-range ballistic missile, I maintain that the United States should treat any North Korean missile launch as a threat to our national security and our allies, and that we should shoot it down once it leaves North Korean airspace," McCain said in a statement. "North Korea's leaders should have no doubt that the United States of America has both the capability and the will to eliminate the threats they seek to pose to international peace and stability."
U.S. defense officials have already said the United States has the capability to intercept any missile headed toward the homeland -- though it is seen as unlikely that North Korea would fire a missile toward the U.S.
Asked Monday about the absence of any missile test so far, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said officials are still monitoring "very carefully."
"We would not be surprised if that series of provocative actions and bellicose statements were to continue," he said. "We are taking the prudent steps that we've talked about, in terms of ensuring that our homeland is defended and our allies are defended."
He added: "Any absence of provocative behavior or unhelpful rhetoric is a good thing in this case, but, again, I would not suggest that we believe the cycle of behavior has ended necessarily. We are -- as monitoring this as closely today as we were over the weekend and in previous days and weeks. And taking the necessary measures and working with our partners and allies to make clear to North Korea what the result of that kind of decision would be, in terms of condemnation and isolation and further sanction."
Carney said the administration is engaging the Russians and Chinese in efforts to pressure North Korea to back down.
Meanwhile, North Koreans celebrated the birthday of their first leader Monday by dancing in plazas and snacking on peanuts, with little hint of the fiery language that has kept the international community fearful that a missile launch may be imminent.
Pyongyang fired off a rocket ahead of the last anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth -- the centennial -- but this time the day was simply the start of a two-day holiday for Pyongyang residents who spilled into the streets.
Elsewhere in the region, however, the focus remained on the threat of a launch as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up a tour to coordinate Washington's response with Beijing, North Korea's most important ally, as well as with Seoul and Tokyo.
In Seoul, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told a parliamentary committee Monday that North Korea still appeared poised to launch a missile from its east coast, though he declined to disclose the source of his information.
Kerry warned North Korea not to conduct a missile test, saying it would be provocation that "will raise people's temperatures" and further isolate the country and its impoverished people. He said Sunday that the U.S. was "prepared to reach out," but that Pyongyang must first bring down tensions and honor previous agreements.
Foreign governments have been trying to assess how seriously to take North Korea's recent torrent of rhetoric warning of war if the U.S. and South Korea do not stop holding joint military maneuvers just across the border.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.