U.S. concludes North’s recent test might have been H-bombWASHINGTON - The United States has tentatively concluded that North Korea detonated a hydrogen bomb over the weekend, as the regime has claimed, a senior U.S. administration official said Thursday.
The remark underscores the gravity of the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, as an H-bomb is far more destructive than the atomic weapons the regime has tested in the past.
“We’re still assessing that test,” the official told reporters in a teleconference, on the condition of anonymity, referring to the detonation on Sunday. “I can say that so far there’s nothing inconsistent with the North Korean claim that this was a hydrogen bomb, but we don’t have a conclusive view on it yet.”
Pyongyang conducted its sixth nuclear test on Sunday, claiming it was a successful detonation of an H-bomb that can be mounted on a long-range missile. Its fourth nuclear test in January 2016 was also of an H-bomb, according to Pyongyang, but outside experts said it was more likely to be a boosted fission weapon.
The official dismissed the notion that U.S. President Donald Trump may be willing to tolerate a nuclearized North Korea if it is contained and deterred.
“We are very concerned that North Korea might not be able to be deterred,” he said, “that there are real differences between North Korea and the small group of nations that have these weapons, including the sort of deterrence construct that existed between us and the Soviets, for example. We’re just not sure that applies in this case. I don’t think the president wants to take that chance.”
Washington rejects China’s proposal for a “freeze for freeze,” the official also said, under which South Korea and the United States would suspend their regular military exercises in exchange for North Korea stopping its nuclear and missile tests.
“We’re just not going to do that. We don’t train for show. We train because militaries and alliances have to train their forces in order to be effective to deter action by adversaries and also to be able to fight effectively in the event that it comes to war,” he said.
In the past, the exercises were scaled back or canceled in the hopes that North Korea would denuclearize, but that “failed miserably,” and the administration thinks it’s a misguided way to approach the problem, he added. On possible talks with Pyongyang, the official said Washington has still left the door open, but it is “plainly clear” that now is not the time to negotiate with the regime. He noted that more sanctions could be applied to the North to match those that have been imposed on Iran and Iraq.
“There’s a long way yet to go in order to make North Korea feel the kind of pressure that they clearly need to feel in order to change their calculus about whether pursuing these weapons are, or are not in the interest of this regime,” he said.
Commenting on reports that North Korea may test-launch another intercontinental ballistic missile on Saturday, the official was tight-lipped.