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March 29th, 2013
05:28 PM ET

Fmr. defense secretary: China is not happy with North Korea

By Sherisse Pham and Jake Tapper

After a full month of tough talk, photo-ops, and hilariously bad photo shops, North Korea took it to another new level today, announcing that leader Kim Jong Un has signed off on a plan to aim rockets at U.S. targets, including American cities like Washington, D.C., L.A. and Austin, Texas.

Overnight photos were released of Kim inside his "war room" as he went over the strike plan. While most military analysts say there's no way he can pull it off, there are tens of thousands of U.S. troops probably within range in the Pacific.

The new threat comes a day after the U.S. responded with an attention-grabbing move of its own, deploying two B-2 stealth bombers from Missouri to make a mock 6,000-mile bombing run over South Korea. The Pentagon's way of saying, 'We're not playing.'

"I don't think we are poking back or responding," Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Thursday. "The North Koreans have to understand that what they are doing is very dangerous."

Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen says we should be very concerned about North Korea, who added that one of the country's few allies, China, should step up the pressure. Cohen was in China earlier this week, and said the country is displeased with the hermit kingdom.

"They are not happy with the North Koreans. They are very worried that this thing could get out of hand," Cohen said on "The Lead with Jake Tapper" on Friday. "They want the rhetoric to be lowered to be sure, but also to try to reduce the notion that we're headed inevitably toward any kind of conflict."

"I hope that the Chinese can exercise even more influence over their North Korean client state because they provide the food and the fuel," Cohen added. "If that is reduced, then North Korea is in very big trouble. They’re already in big trouble, but that would be big trouble for them and possibly result in a regime change."

North Korea is ruled by "a young man who was promoted to a four-star general before becoming president, who has very little worldly experience, who has no other show of capability other than his military, and I think he is under enormous pressure to demonstrate his mettle," Cohen said.

North Korea's repeated threats to South Korea are dangerous and "a possible miscalculation," said Cohen, because newly-elected South Korean President Park Geun-hye has very little flexibility. Especially given North Korea's past attacks.

If Kim "does something that is at all provocative and results in a loss of life or puts them in jeopardy, then [Park] is going to be required to respond," said Cohen.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is trying to send a signal to four countries.

"To North Korea, to be sure, but also to Japan, South Korea - because they have shown some concern recently that perhaps our commitment to that security of the region is not as strong as it needs to be," said Cohen. "And the fourth country is China."

China does not want a unified Korea, the country does not want a U.S. presence and a U.S. ally that big in its backyard. But a conflict between the Koreas would be bad for China. And it would also be very bad for the U.S., which has 28,500 troops within range of North Korea.

"We have thousands of troops at risk and we want to make sure that the north understands that ... if we had to respond, we can do it by air, land, or sea," said Cohen.

"With just the right message we want all the countries in the region to know, number one we're prepared to defend ourselves and our allies," said Cohen.

And if North Korea starts shelling downtown Seoul, that would spur the U.S. to defend its ally mighty quickly.

"That would result in the destruction of the north," said Cohen. Such an attack would be met with a "very vigorous response," said Cohen.

"If you, in fact, start shelling South Korea you are attacking an ally, attacking us."

"This is the message that is going forward," said Cohen. "And hopefully we talk softly, carry a big stick."

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