12 May 2017

News Report: Pyongyang’s Nuclear ICBM Program Plagued by ‘Shortfalls,’ Pentagon Says

The Pentagon’s intelligence agency is reporting that there are still “important shortfalls” in North Korea’s attempts to develop a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the US mainland.

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) spokesman William Marks, a Navy commander, told Stars and Stripes that Pyongyang "continues efforts to expand its stockpile of weapons-grade fissile materials," but that the North still has a ways to go before they’d be capable of deploying such a weapon to attack the US.

"Though we’ve seen North Korea accomplish some key milestones in specific short-range systems, important shortfalls remain in the development of longer range missiles," the DIA said. 

This assessment comes at a time of high tension on the Korean Peninsula, as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un continues ballistic missile and nuclear weapons testing despite UN sanctions and near-universal condemnation.

US President Donald Trump has sent what he described as an "armada" to the area, including a Tomahawk-missile equipped nuclear-powered submarine and a Navy carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson, to engage in joint military drills with South Korea. The drills also serve as a less-than-subtle warning to Pyongyang.

Trump has said he would be "honored" to meet with Kim under certain circumstances, though he has not clarified what those circumstances would be.

In early May, two US B-1 bombers flew over the Korean Peninsula, with Pyongyang responding via its state news agency that, "Due to the US military provocations that are becoming more explicit day by day, the situation in the Korean Peninsula, which is already sensitive, is being driven to a point close to nuclear war." 

Before his inauguration, Trump took to Twitter to declare that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) developing a weapon that can reach the US “won’t happen!”

Discussing North Korea’s KN-08, the Pentagon’s name for a mobile-mounted DPRK missile with a range exceeding 3,400 miles, Marks explained that these projectiles "are extremely complex systems that require multiple flight tests to identify and correct design or manufacturing defects," and that "without flight tests, the KN-08’s reliability as a weapons system is low."

The Trump administration has consistently refused to rule out using military action against Pyongyang, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson describing the nation as an "imminent threat" to the US requiring "immediate attention." 

South Korea’s new liberal President Moon Jae-in has been urging a diplomatic resolution to regional tensions, having already spoken to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping about the North’s denuclearization.

Presidential spokesperson Yoon Young-chan said that Moon told Xi, "The resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue must be comprehensive and sequential, with pressure and sanctions used in parallel with negotiations," and that "Sanctions against North Korea are also a means to bring the North to the negotiating table aimed at eliminating its nuclear weapons."

This story first appeared on Sputnik & is reposted here with permission.