03:17 GMT +309 December 2019
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    A South Korean man watches a TV news program showing the file footage of the missile launch conducted by North Korea.

    US: North Korea Has Nuclear Warheads for Intercontinental Missiles

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    United States intelligence believes North Korea has miniaturized a nuclear weapon and is capable of mounting it on an intercontinental missile, the head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command said.

    The statement from Navy Admiral Bill Gortney during a Pentagon briefing Tuesday reflects an already widely held assumption that the insular country would look to develop the technology to place a nuclear warhead on the KN-08, a mobile intercontinental ballistic missile.

    "Our assessment is that they have the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland," Gortney said. "That is the way we think, and that's our assessment of the process."

    "We haven't seen them test the KN-08 yet and we're waiting for them to do that, but it doesn't necessarily mean that they will fly it before they test it," he added.

    North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006, none involving the KN-08. But even without seeing a test of a nuclear-capable KN-08, Gortney said it would be "prudent" to plan for the threat.

    On Tuesday, Gortney said that if North Korea were to fire a missile at the US, “I am confident we can knock it down.”

    That contrasts the testimony he gave during a congressional hearing last month, when he said that the KN-08’s mobility “will complicate our ability to provide warning and defense against an attack.”

    Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told Defense News that while it is possible to equip a KN-08 with a nuclear weapon, it is much more challenging to deliver it to the target.

    "It's not that hard to shrink it down,” Lewis said, “but what happens is you start to encounter reliability problems, especially if it's got a ride on an ICBM."

    Gortney’s comment comes as US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter plans to visit Seoul on Thursday for talks on ways to bolster deterrence against North Korea.

    Those talks, Carter said in a Monday speech, will "reinforce deterrence and improve capabilities on the peninsula to counteract an increasingly dangerous and provocative North Korea."

    After its last nuclear test in 2013, North Korea claimed that it had the ability to hit the mainland US with nuclear-tipped missiles. It also defied United Nations Security Council resolutions by test-firing ballistic missiles.

    Tags:
    South Korea, Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK), nuclear weapons, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), Ashton Carter, United States
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