North’s nuke capability reassessed

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North’s nuke capability reassessed

U.S. and South Korean authorities have suggested that North Korea could have the ability to deliver nuclear warheads on missiles even before 2015.

A Korean official said Wednesday that during discussions of the North’s nuclear capabilities during their Integrated Defense Dialogue in July and in other forums, the two sides agreed that Pyongyang’s abilities are at a stage where the North can load nuclear warheads onto ballistic missiles.

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, who addressed the defense committee at the National Assembly Tuesday, said, “Until 2010, [North Korea’s] ability was at a developmental and experimental stage, but currently, there is a danger they may weaponize their nuclear technology at any time.”

Kim also said that the Defense Ministry is still talking with the United States about a postponement of the transfer of wartime operation control from Washington to Seoul in December 2015. He fears that move could embolden North Korea to renew its provocations to unsettle the security situation on the peninsula.

“Taking into account that North Korea has new nuclear and missile capabilities, there is an increased possibility of a misjudgment by the North at the time when wartime operational control is transferred,” he said.

The Defense Ministry gave the Assembly a national security report that also described the change in China’s attitude toward North Korea as circumstantial evidence of the North’s advancements in its nuclear program.

A defense official said the evaluation of Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities were “based on the partial success of North Korea in launching a long-range missile last December and its third nuclear test in February.”

The official added, “In the future, successful miniaturization of nuclear warheads paired with delivery by a ballistic missile would increase the danger that such weapons would be used.”

The recent analyses are a marked change in the allies’ assessment of North Korean nuclear prowess. Just over a month ago, as the Koreas commemorated the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, Pyongyang trundled out its weaponry in a military parade.

The Defense Ministry here said at the time that the North “was not yet in the process of miniaturization of its nuclear warheads” and that a considerable amount of time would pass before the North could miniaturize its weapons.

The change in the ministry’s position over the course of a month could be related to further analysis of the North’s nuclear test, its third, on Feb. 12. Pyongyang claimed that it had succeeded in detonating a “miniaturized and lighter” nuclear device.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has said that North Korea had likely acquired the ability to miniaturize nuclear warheads so they can be fitted to ballistic missiles, but that view was not accepted by other U.S. intelligence groups.




BY JEONG YONG-SOO [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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