North Korea could be “months” away from perfecting the ability to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon, a top American intelligence official said Thursday.
The warning by Mike Pompeo, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, comes as North Korea has threatened to hit the continental U.S. with a nuclear-tipped long-range missile.
“They are closer now than they were five years ago, and I expect they will be closer in five months than they are today, absent a global effort to push back against them,” Pompeo said in a discussion hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “It is the case that they are close enough now in their capabilities that from a U.S. policy perspective, we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving that objective.”
Pompeo acknowledged that the timeline may be off due to the limits of gleaning intelligence from a reclusive nation like North Korea.
“But when you’re now talking about months,” he said, “our capacity to understand that at a detailed level is in some sense irrelevant.”
He added, “Whether it happens on Tuesday or a month from Tuesday, we are at a time where the president has concluded that we need a global effort to ensure that (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-un doesn’t have that capacity.”
Tensions reached new levels this year as North Korea fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September.
U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea in the event that the U.S. is forced to defend itself or its allies. He has also engaged in a war of words with Kim, stoking fears of an armed clash on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea and the United States agreed Friday to strengthen their coordination on the North Korea nuclear issue and find ways to prod China and Russia into reining in the North, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.
South Korea’s top nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon held a meeting with his U.S. counterpart Joseph Yun to discuss how to respond to the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The envoys shared the need to seek cooperation with major partners based on a close Seoul-Washington alliance. In particular, they agreed to beef up efforts to elicit constructive roles by China and Russia (in reining in the North),” the ministry said in a statement.
Lee and Yun also discussed ways to handle the North Korea nuclear standoff through diplomacy including sanctions and pressure and to bring North Korea to “sincere” talks for denuclearization, it said.
Yun is in Seoul for a series of meetings on the issue, including a trilateral meeting among the top nuclear envoys of Seoul, Washington and Japan.
The meeting came a few weeks ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to South Korea and Japan. As part of his trip to Asia, Trump plans to visit Seoul on Nov. 7-8 following a three-day visit to Tokyo.
“For Washington, being together and being well coordinated with Seoul is (our) No. 1 priority,” Yun said at the start of the meeting. “There are many occasions for our leaders to engage each other to coordinate our positions to have a very solid and joint approach as we go forward,” Yun said.
Tensions have heightened amid North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests and exchanges of inflammatory rhetoric between Trump and the North Korean leadership.