Re­ports: North has nukes

Trump says threats will be met “with fire and fury”

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Matthew Pennington and Cather­ine Lucey

N.J.» Pres­i­dent BRIDGEWATER,

Don­ald Trump threat­ened North Korea “with fire and fury like the world has never seen” on Tues­day af­ter sugges­tions the Com­mu­nist coun­try has mas­tered one of the fi­nal hur­dles to be­ing able to strike the United States with a nu­clear mis­sile.

North Korea said it was ex­am­in­ing its op­er­a­tional plans for at­tack­ing Guam — a U.S. ter­ri­tory about 2,100 miles away — in or­der to con­tain U.S. military ac­tiv­ity there. The North Korean army said in a state­ment dis­trib­uted Wed­nes­day by the state-run news agency that it is study­ing a plan to cre­ate an “en­velop­ing fire” in ar­eas around Guam with medium- to long-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles. Guam is home to An­der­sen Air Force Base.

The com­pet­ing threats es­ca­lated ten­sions be­tween the foes even fur­ther. Although it wasn’t clear if Trump and the Kore­ans were re­spond­ing di­rectly to each other, the height­ened rhetoric added to the po­ten­tial for a

mis­cal­cu­la­tion that might bring the nu­clear-armed na­tions into con­flict.

Trump’s stern words to the cam­era at his golf course in Bed­min­ster, N.J., came hours af­ter re­ports in­di­cat­ing North Korea can now wed nu­clear war­heads with its mis­siles, in­clud­ing those that may be able to hit the Amer­i­can main­land. The iso­lated and im­pov­er­ished dic­ta­tor­ship has strived for decades to have the abil­ity to strike the U.S. and its Asian al­lies, and the pace of its break­throughs is hav­ing far-reach­ing con­se­quences for sta­bil­ity in the Pa­cific and be­yond.

The nu­clear ad­vances were de­tailed in an of­fi­cial Ja­panese as­sess­ment and a Wash­ing­ton Post story that cited U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and a con­fi­den­tial De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency re­port. The U.S. now puts the North Korean ar­se­nal at up to 60 nu­clear weapons, more than dou­ble most as­sess­ments by in­de­pen­dent ex­perts, ac­cord­ing to The Post’s re­port­ing.

“North Korea had best not make any more threats to the United States,” said a stern-look­ing Trump, seated with his arms crossed and with his wife be­side him. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

“He has been very threat­en­ing be­yond a nor­mal state. And as I said they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen be­fore.”

The re­marks ap­peared scripted, with Trump glanc­ing at a pa­per in front of him. They evoked Pres­i­dent Harry Tru­man’s an­nounce­ment of the U.S. atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Ja­pan, in 1945, in which he warned of “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this Earth.”

But it wasn’t clear what Trump, who is prone to hy­per­bole and bom­bast in far less grave sit­u­a­tions, meant by the threat. White House of­fi­cials did not elab­o­rate.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion con­sid­ers North Korea to be Amer­ica’s great­est na­tional se­cu­rity threat, and ten­sions have es­ca­lated steadily this year.

Py­ongyang re­sponded an­grily to the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s adop­tion this week­end of new, tougher sanc­tions spear­headed by Wash­ing­ton. The sanc­tions fol­lowed ground­break­ing long-range mis­sile tests last month that showed the North po­ten­tially could reach the con­ti­nen­tal United States with its mis­siles. The newly re­vealed U.S. in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment in­di­cates those mis­siles can carry nu­clear war­heads.

De­nounc­ing the U.N. sanc­tions through state me­dia, the North warned: “We will make the U.S. pay by a thou­sand­fold for all the heinous crimes it com­mits against the state and peo­ple of this coun­try.”

For North Korea, hav­ing a nu­clear-tipped mis­sile that could strike Amer­ica would be the ul­ti­mate guar­an­tee against in­va­sion by its su­per­power ad­ver­sary.

It is an am­bi­tion decades in the mak­ing. North Korea be­gan pro­duc­ing fis­sile ma­te­rial for bombs in the early 1990s and con­ducted its first nu­clear test ex­plo­sion in 2006. Four sub­se­quent nu­clear tests, the lat­est a year ago, have ac­cel­er­ated progress on minia­tur­iz­ing a de­vice — some­thing North Korea al­ready claimed it could do. Over that span, mul­ti­ple U.S. pres­i­dents have tried and failed to coax or pres­sure Py­ongyang into aban­don­ing its nu­clear am­bi­tions.

The se­crecy of the North’s nu­clear pro­gram and the un­der­ground nature of its test ex­plo­sions make it very dif­fi­cult to prop­erly as­sess its claims. But the new as­sess­ments from Ja­pan and the U.S. sug­gest that doubts over the North’s abil­i­ties are re­ced­ing.

In an an­nual re­port, Ja­pan’s De­fense Min­istry on Tues­day con­cluded that “it is pos­si­ble that North Korea has achieved the minia­tur­iza­tion of nu­clear weapons and has de­vel­oped nu­clear war­heads.” Ja­pan, a key U.S. ally, is a po­ten­tial, front-line target of North Korean ag­gres­sion.

The Post story, cit­ing un­named U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials, went fur­ther. It said the De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency anal­y­sis, com­pleted last month, as­sessed North Korea has pro­duced nu­clear weapons for bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­liv­ery, in­clud­ing by in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal mis­siles.

Of­fi­cials at the agency wouldn’t com­ment Tues­day. The Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence also wouldn’t discuss the re­port.

It’s un­clear how North Korea’s new ca­pa­bil­i­ties will af­fect how the U.S. ap­proaches the coun­try’s reg­u­lar mis­sile launches and oc­ca­sional nu­clear tests. The U.S. military has never at­tempted to shoot a North Korean mis­sile out of the sky, deem­ing all pre­vi­ous tests to pose no threat to the United States. The U.S. could weigh military ac­tion if the threat per­cep­tion changes.

The cal­cu­la­tion of North Korea’s nu­clear ar­se­nal at 60 bombs ex­ceeds other as­sess­ments, which range from around one dozen to about 30 weapons. The as­sess­ments are typ­i­cally an es­ti­mate of the amount of plu­to­nium and en­riched uranium North Korea has in its in­ven­tory rather than how much of that ma­te­rial has been weaponized. It’s un­clear how many, if any, minia­tur­ized war­heads North Korea has built.

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