by Rebecca Kheel and Josh Delk · August 8, 2017
North Korea has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead to mount on a ballistic missile, according to a new report.
The assessment from the Defense Intelligence Agency, reported Tuesday by The Washington Post, puts Pyongyang closer than ever before to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power capable of striking the United States with a nuclear weapon, something it has often threatened to do.
The development raises the stakes for President Trump, who has vowed that he will not allow North Korea to obtain a nuclear weapon that can strike the U.S.
Still, officials and experts have said that North Korea has yet to cross key technological hurdles with its nuclear program, including building a re-entry vehicle that can withstand traveling through the atmosphere and developing the guidance and control systems to accurately and reliably target its missiles.
The intelligence analysis reported on by the Post was dated July 28, the same day North Korea carried out its second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test.
“The [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles,” the assessment says, according to the Post, which was read the excerpt.
The Defense Intelligence Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment to the Post.
The assessment tracks with Japan’s annual defense white paper, also released Tuesday, which said that it’s “possible” North Korea has miniaturized a nuclear warhead, as well as warnings from U.S. officials of the grave threat from Pyongyang.
The July 28 analysis also comes after another Defense Intelligence Agency assessment, first reported by the Post, that found North Korea could have a reliable nuclear-capable ICBM as early as next year, two years earlier than previously estimated.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pursued an aggressive testing schedule; he carried out two nuclear tests in 2016 and has conducted more than a dozen missile tests this year.
In July, North Korea conducted its first two ICBM tests. The second test appeared to show that the continental United States is now within its range.
Yet video captured by a Japanese weather camera showed the missile’s re-entry vehicle breaking up during descent, suggesting North Korea does not yet have the capability to carry out a strike.
In mid-July, Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Gen. Paul Selva also said the “North Koreans have yet to demonstrate the capacity to do the guidance and control that would be required” to strike the United States “with any degree of accuracy or reasonable confidence of success.”
U.S. officials have been warning of the pace of North Korea’s progress for months.
On Sunday, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said in an interview on MSNBC that “it’s impossible to overstate the danger” posed by North Korea.
The day prior, the United Nations voted 15-0 to impose tough new sanctions on North Korea in hopes of halting the progress.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also indicated the United States is open to talks with North Korea, but only if it halts its missile tests.
“The best signal that North Korea could give us that they’re prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches,” Tillerson said Monday at a security conference in the Philippines. “We’ve not had an extended period of time where they have not taken some type of provocative action by launching ballistic missiles.”