North Korea is now capable of launching a nuclear weapon, a senior US military official has warned – but it is unclear whether it can hit a target.
The secretive state can mount a nuclear warhead on a missile, the official stated, but may not be able to get the weapon back through the atmosphere without it burning up.
The unnamed official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Pyongyang is trying to overcome this limitation, and branded leader Kim Jong-un’s behaviour branded ‘very, very provocative’.
The Pentagon is continually revising its contingency plans to deal with the possibility of a North Korean strike.
The official told reporters: ‘I think they could mate a warhead with a delivery device. They’re just not sure (about) re-entry.
‘They’re endeavoring to overcome that.’
North Korea has carried out a number of nuclear and missile tests this year, defying UN Security Council resolutions and sanctions.
Kim said in August that his country is now ‘fully equipped with nuclear attack capability’, after a test of a submarine-launched missile.
In October, a report by the RAND Corporation warned that North Korea was the biggest threat facing the US around the world, and it is feared the country could possess up to 100 nuclear weapons by 2020.
Incoming President Donald Trump has called on China to do more to rein in its neighbor, and he told Reuters in May that he is willing to talk to the North Korean leader to try to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
There are currently around 28,500 US troops based in South Korea helping to defend the country against nuclear-armed North Korea.
The two countries have remained in a technical state of war since the 1950-53 Korean conflict.
The official said the US military was always reviewing potential responses to threats from the North, acknowledging greater attention on the issue in recent months.