In an interview with NBC News the former diplomat said Pyongyang’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is "desperate in maintaining his rule by relying on his [development of] nuclear weapons and ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missiles]," that could potentially reach the US mainland.
He told Lester Holt that the trigger-happy Kim is ready to respond to any aggression from Washington or its friends. "Once he sees that there is any kind of sign of a tank or an imminent threat from America, then he would use his nuclear weapons with ICBM," he said.
Leaving his post as deputy ambassador to the UK in August 2016, Thae and his family were among a group of North Korean elites that settled in South Korea, saying at the time that his college-aged sons would have been "miserable" if they returned to the North and that leaving the reclusive nation was akin to "cutting off the chain of slavery" for his family.
Thae said during his interview that the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) "has reached a very significant level of nuclear development," though he was not personally involved in his country’s weapons program, adding that the North could have as many as eight nuclear weapons, which Pyongyang has been trying to integrate onto its ICBMs.
It isn’t clear how close Pyongyang is to completing this project, but in March Choe Myong Nam, deputy ambassador of the North Korean mission to the United Nations in Geneva, said Kim could launch the missiles "at any time and at any place" he chooses.
US Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift also told NBC News that the North’s continuous weapons testing and development makes this most recent threat particularly disquieting.
He explained, "They have the nuclear capability — they've demonstrated that … And then, where they're going with the miniaturization of that, whether they can actually weaponize a missile, that's what's driving the current concern."
US President Donald Trump was relatively cool towards Pyongyang in the early days of his administration, but he and his camp have become more aggressive as the North continues to threaten the US and South Korea during their annual joint military drills.
During a recent meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump said the North was acting "very very badly," and on Monday told the Financial times that "something had to be done" about the communist nation’s behavior.
Thae reasoned that "The final and the real solution to the North Korean nuclear issue is to eliminate Kim Jong-un from the post."