Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) read what he said was an unclassified section of the DIA report while questioning Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a session of the House Armed Services Committee. Lamborn said the DIA had concluded “with moderate confidence” that Pyongyang “has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles; however, the reliability will be low.”
The reference to reliability presumably reflected concerns about the accuracy of the ballistic missiles in North Korea’s arsenal as well as the technical difficulties of miniaturizing nuclear devices.
James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, issued a statement Thursday night saying the DIA assessment was not the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community. “North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile,” he said.
Still, nuclear weapons experts said the assessment is the most specific attributed to the U.S. government on North Korea’s ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon that could reach U.S. troops deployed in the region.
“This is the clearest, most direct statement that North Korea has a miniaturized warhead,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a North Korea expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He said, however, that the finding is “consistent with a series of statements that have been made in the past” by U.S. government officials.
In his first remarks since the new tensions on the Korean Peninsula, President Obama called on North Korea on Thursday to end its belligerence. Obama also pledged to take “all necessary steps” to protect the United States from any North Korean aggression.
“Now is the time for North Korea to end the kind of belligerent approach that they’ve been taking and to try to lower temperatures,” Obama said after an Oval Office meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
U.S. intelligence officials said Thursday that they believe North Korea’s rhetoric represents an effort by the country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, to show he is firmly in control, and should not be construed as a genuine appetite for war. They cautioned, however, that discerning the young leader’s intentions is difficult. Kim took power in December 2011 after the death of his father, and U.S. officials have limited evidence to assess his thinking.
“I think his primary objective is to consolidate, affirm his power,” Clapper told the House intelligence committee. “Much of the rhetoric — in fact, all of the — of the belligerent rhetoric of late, I think, is designed for both an internal and an external audience.”