Trump, North Korea trade threats

U.S. pres­i­dent vows to re­spond with ‘power’; Py­ongyang says it is study­ing at­tack on Guam.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Joby War­rick, Ellen Nakashima and Anna Fi­field Wash­ing­ton Post

North Korea has suc­cess­fully pro­duced a minia­tur­ized nu­clear war­head that can fit on its mis­siles, crossing a key thresh­old on the path to be­com­ing a full-fledged nu­clear power, U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have con­cluded in a con­fi­den­tial as­sess­ment.

News of the break­through, and re­newed bel­liger­ence by North Korea, drew a harsh re­sponse Tues­day from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

“They will be met with the fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen be­fore,” said Trump, speak­ing at an event at his Bed­min­ster, N.J., golf course.

North Korea coun­tered that it was ex­am­in­ing a plan to at­tack Guam, a U.S. ter­ri­tory that is home to a U.S. Air Force base, in re­sponse to a re­cent Amer­i­can ICBM test.

The new anal­y­sis of North Korea’s nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity, com­pleted last month by the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency, comes on the heels of an­other in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment that sharply raises the of­fi­cial es­ti­mate for the total num­ber of bombs in the com­mu­nist coun­try’s atomic ar­se­nal. The U.S. cal­cu­lated last month that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un now con­trols up to 60 nu­clear weapons. Some in­de­pen­dent ex­perts be­lieve the num­ber of bombs is much smaller.

The find­ings are likely to deepen concerns about an evolv­ing North Korean military threat that ap­pears to be ad­vanc­ing far more rapidly than many ex­perts had pre­dicted. U.S. of­fi­cials last month con­cluded that Py­ongyang is also out­pac­ing ex­pec­ta­tions in its ef­fort to build an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­ble of strik­ing cities on the Amer­i­can main­land.

While more than a decade has passed since North Korea’s first nu­clear det­o­na­tion, many an­a­lysts be­lieved it would be years be­fore the coun­try’s weapons sci­en­tists could de­sign a com­pact war­head that could be de­liv­ered by mis­sile to dis­tant tar­gets. But the new as­sess­ment, a sum­mary doc­u­ment dated July 28, con­cludes that this crit­i­cal mile­stone has al­ready been reached.

“The IC (in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity) as­sesses North Korea has pro­duced nu­clear weapons for bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­liv­ery, to in­clude de­liv­ery by ICBM-class mis­siles,” the as­sess­ment states.

The as­sess­ment’s broad con­clu­sions were ver­i­fied by two U.S. of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the doc­u­ment. It is not yet known whether the reclu­sive regime has suc­cess­fully tested the smaller war­head, although North Korea last year claimed to have done so.

The DIA and the Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence de­clined to com­ment.

An as­sess­ment this week by the Ja­panese Min­istry of De­fense also con­cludes there is ev­i­dence to sug­gest that North Korea has achieved minia­tur­iza­tion.

North Korea on Tues­day de­scribed a new round of United Na­tions sanc­tions as an at­tempt “to stran­gle a na­tion” and warned that in re­sponse “phys­i­cal ac­tion will be taken mer­ci­lessly with the mo­bi­liza­tion of all its na­tional strength.”

Kim is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly con­fi­dent in the re­li­a­bil­ity of his nu­clear ar­se­nal, an­a­lysts have con­cluded, ex­plain­ing per­haps the dic­ta­tor’s will­ing­ness to en­gage in de­fi­ant be­hav­ior, in­clud­ing mis­sile tests that have drawn crit­i­cism even from North Korea’s clos­est ally, China. On Satur­day, both China and Rus­sia joined other mem­bers of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil in ap­prov­ing pun­ish­ing new eco­nomic sanc­tions, in­clud­ing a ban on ex­ports that sup­ply up to a third of North Korea’s an­nual $3 bil­lion earn­ings.

The nu­clear progress fur­ther raises the stakes for Trump, who has vowed that North Korea will never be al­lowed to threaten the United States with nu­clear weapons. In an in­ter­view broad­cast Satur­day on MSNBC’s “Hugh He­witt Show,” na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser H.R. McMaster said the prospect of a North Korea armed with nu­clear-tipped ICBMs would be “in­tol­er­a­ble, from the pres­i­dent’s per­spec­tive.”

“We have to pro­vide all op­tions ... and that in­cludes a military op­tion,” he said.

But McMaster said the ad­min­is­tra­tion would do ev­ery­thing short of war to “pres­sure Kim Jong Un and those around him, such that they con­clude it is in their in­ter­est to de­nu­cle­arize.”

The op­tions said to be un­der dis­cus­sion ranged from new multilateral ne­go­ti­a­tions to rein­tro­duc­ing U.S. bat­tle­field nu­clear weapons to the Korean Penin­sula, of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with in­ter­nal dis­cus­sions said.

De­ter­min­ing the pre­cise makeup of North Korea’s nu­clear ar­se­nal has long been a dif­fi­cult chal­lenge for in­tel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als be­cause of the regime’s culture of ex­treme se­crecy and in­su­lar­ity. The coun­try’s weapons sci­en­tists have con­ducted five nu­clear tests since 2006, the lat­est be­ing a 20- to 30-kilo­ton det­o­na­tion on Sept. 9, 2016, that pro­duced a blast es­ti­mated to be up to twice that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Ja­pan, in 1945.

But pro­duc­ing a com­pact nu­clear war­head that can fit in­side a mis­sile is a tech­ni­cally de­mand­ing feat, one that many an­a­lysts be­lieved was still be­yond North Korea’s grasp. Last year, state-run me­dia in Py­ongyang dis­played a spher­i­cal de­vice that gov­ern­ment spokes­men de­scribed as a minia­tur­ized nu­clear war­head, but whether it was a real bomb was un­clear. North Korean of­fi­cials de­scribed the Septem­ber det­o­na­tion as a suc­cess­ful test of a small war­head de­signed to fit on a mis­sile, though many ex­perts were skep­ti­cal of the claim.

Kim has re­peat­edly pro­claimed his in­ten­tion to field a fleet of nu­clear-tipped ICBMs as a guar­an­tor of his regime’s sur­vival. His regime took a ma­jor step to­ward that goal last month with the first suc­cess­ful tests of a mis­sile with in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal range.

Video anal­y­sis of the lat­est test led some an­a­lysts to con­clude that the mis­sile caught fire and dis­in­te­grated as it plunged back to­ward Earth’s sur­face, sug­gest­ing North Korea’s en­gi­neers might not yet be ca­pa­ble of build­ing a reen­try ve­hi­cle that can carry the war­head safely through the up­per at­mos­phere. But U.S. an­a­lysts and many in­de­pen­dent ex­perts be­lieve that this hur­dle will be over­come by late next year.

“What ini­tially looked like a slow-mo­tion Cuban mis­sile cri­sis is now look­ing more like the Man­hat­tan Project, just bar­rel­ing along,” said Robert Lit­wak, a non­pro­lif­er­a­tion ex­pert at the Woodrow Wil­son In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for Schol­ars and au­thor of “Pre­vent­ing North Korea’s Nu­clear Break­out,” pub­lished by the cen­ter this year. “There’s a sense of ur­gency be­hind the pro­gram that is new to the Kim Jong Un era.”

AL DRAGO / THE NEW YORK TIMES

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump threat­ened on Tues­day to un­leash “fire and fury” against North Korea if it en­dan­gers the United States.

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