Ash Carter
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter attends a press conference with Britain's Defense Secretary Michael Fallon at the Foreign Office in London, Dec. 15, 2016. REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY

The U.S. military wouldn’t destroy a North Korean missile as long as it wasn’t a threat to the country, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday. He added that the military would rather monitor the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test and gather information.

“If the missile is threatening, it will be intercepted. If it’s not threatening, we won’t necessarily do so,” Carter said at a press briefing, his final one before President Barack Obama leaves office on Jan. 20. “Because it may be more to our advantage to, first of all, save our interceptor inventory, and, second, to gather intelligence from the flight, rather than do that [intercept the ICBM] when it’s not threatening.”

In his New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Pyongyang was in the final stages of preparing to test an ICBM.

“Research and development of cutting edge arms equipment is actively progressing and ICBM rocket test launch preparation is in its last stage,” Kim said.

The isolated country has been under United Nations sanctions since 2006 for its ballistic and nuclear missile tests. Pyongyang conducted its last test in Sept. 2016 after which the U.N. tightened restrictions against North Korea.

A foreign ministry spokesman for the hermit nation said the missile “will be launched anytime anywhere” and blamed U.S. interference for its arms development policy, the state-run news agency KCNA reported Sunday.

Incoming U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed North Korea’s claims of a missile reaching U.S. soil “won’t happen.”

Marine General Joseph Dunford, a senior U.S. military officer who is to remain as Trump’s top uniformed military advisor, was also present at Carter’s final press briefing and was in agreement with Carter.

A fully developed ICBM could reach the U.S. which is about 5,500 miles from the isolated country. Most ICBMs have a minimum range of around 3,400 miles but can be designed in such a way that they could travel cross even 6,200 miles.

Secretary of State John Kerry warned that Kim’s threats of an ICBM would further heighten tensions.

“Because if he persists [on an ICBM]... it more immediately drags the United States into an immediate threat situation, to which we then may have to find other ways or more forceful ways of having an impact on the choices that he is making,” Kerry reportedly said Tuesday.