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Pentagon report says North Korea has capability of nuclear strike

High-ranking officials have played down the report, however, saying there is no US consensus on North Korea’s abilities.

James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, played down the report that North Korea had learned how to launch a nuclear strike.
James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, played down the report that North Korea had learned how to launch a nuclear strike.
Image: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

A PENTAGON REPORT has given the clearest acknowledgement yet that North Korea probably has the capability of launching nuclear ballistic missiles.

The Defense Intelligence Agency report, delivered to lawmakers, says there is “moderate confidence” that North Korea has learned how to make a nuclear weapon small enough that it could be fitted on an airborne missile.

The report notes, however, that the chances of a missile hitting its intended target are low – though it does not qualify whether this is because of North Korea’s own previous difficulty in launching missiles, or the general challenges of building a warhead that can withstand a launch.

The document was only made known when a congressman discussed its findings at a Congressional committee being attended by the Secretary of Defence, Chuck Hagel, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey.

Shortly afterwards, two high-ranking officials sought to play down its findings.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, released a statement saying the document did not reflect a consensus among US analysts about the scale of North Korea’s capabilities.

“North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile,” he said.

A Pentagon press secretary said any suggestion that North Korea had developed and tested the technology for a full missile launch was “inaccurate”.

South Korea also plays down report

South Korea also played down the report, saying it had “doubt” about whether North Korea had created nuclear weapons small enough to fit in a missile.

While North Korea has never successfully tested its most long-range missiles, it has launched weather satellites using rockets of similar size. Its most powerful weapons would theoretically have the power of striking Alaska.

Other weapons, which have a more proven record of success, could easily strike South Korea, Japan, or the US territory of Guam. America has moved missile defence systems to the island in recent days.

The report further raises tensions in the Korean peninsula, however, as US Secretary of State John Kerry travelled to South Korea to discuss the latest developments.

The four-day trip will also include visits to Japan and China, where Kerry will continue American efforts to have China intervene in the situation and encourage Pyongyang to ease its rhetoric.

The timing of the report, and of the trip, is particularly sensitive: it is feared that North Korea could attempt a missile launch on Monday, the 101st anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder Kim Il-sung.

The grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong-un, Il-sung founded the country in the 1940s and still holds the position of ‘Eternal President’ – despite having died in 1992.

Read: South Korea raises alert as North Korea missile test looks likely

Column: Will a policy of deterrence quell tensions on the Korean peninsula?

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Gavan Reilly

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