SEOUL, South Korea -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a stark warning to North Korea Friday not to test-fire a midrange missile and cautioned North Korea's young leader that his country would lose any military conflict with the United States.
Kicking off four days of talks in an East Asia beset by increasing North Korean threats, Kerry told reporters in Seoul that Pyongyang would only increase its isolation if it launched the missile that American officials believe has a range of some 2,500 miles -- enough to reach the U.S. territory of Guam.
"If Kim Jong Un decides to launch a missile, whether it's across the Sea of Japan or some other direction, he will be choosing willfully to ignore the entire international community," Kerry told reporters. "And it will be a provocation and unwanted act that will raise people's temperatures."
A senior defense official said the United States sees a "strong likelihood" that North Korea will launch a test missile in coming days. The effort is expected to test the North's ballistic missile technologies, not a nuclear weapon, said the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
Kerry said the U.S. position "is very clear: We will defend our allies. We will stand with South Korea and Japan against these threats. And we will defend ourselves."
Kerry added: "Kim Jong Un needs to understand, as I think he probably does, what the outcome of the conflict would be" -- an allusion to the overwhelming military might of the United States.
Unless the missile unexpectedly heads for a U.S. or allied target, the Pentagon does not plan to try to shoot it down, several officials said.
But if the trajectory of the test missile suggests that it could be a threat to either the United States or allies, the military would move to shoot it down from one of nine warships armed with sophisticated ballistic missile defense systems in the Pacific, including two that were moved closer to the Korean peninsula, U.S. officials said.
Kerry's diplomatic tour, while planned long in advance, brings him to the region at a time when North Korea is threatening action. The North often times its military and nuclear tests to generate maximum attention, and Kerry's presence alone risked spurring Pyongyang into a provocation. Another key date is the 101st birthday of the communist nation's founder, Kim Il Sung, on Monday.
Both Kerry and South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se kept the door open for future negotiations. But both seemed to suggest talks were unlikely amid the North's threats.
Kerry said any talks with North Korea have to lead toward denuclearization.
"They have to be really serious," Kerry said. "No one is going to talk for the sake of talking, and no one is going to play this round-robin game that gets repeated every few years, which is both unnecessary and dangerous."