White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said last week that Americans have reason to be concerned about North Korea’s ability to reach the United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile. In fact, a North Korean official confirmed on Monday that Pyongyang is committed to developing a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching “all the way to the East coast of the mainland U.S.,” adding that the rogue nation is currently not interested in diplomacy with the United States until that goal is achieved.
Kelly expressed a great deal of concern when he spoke to reporters last week, saying that if the threat grows “beyond where it is today, well, let’s hope that diplomacy works.”
Significantly, Kelly noted that Pyongyang is currently in the process of developing a strong nuclear re-entry vehicle.
Kelly’s comments seem to indicate that the U.S. believes that North Korea is on the brink of achieving what would be a major breakthrough for their missile program.
North Korea, for what it is worth, says it is not ruling out diplomacy, but “before we can engage in diplomacy with the Trump administration, we want to send a clear message that the DPRK has a reliable defensive and offensive capability to counter any aggression from the United States,” the unnamed official said.
The comments offer a sobering challenge to the U.S. and the Trump administration which has offered mixed messages regarding diplomatic efforts with North Korea.
The same North Korean official spoke of two additional steps that are needed for North Korea to achieve its goal of a reliable ICBM.
One step is an above-ground nuclear detonation, like the kind North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho threatened at the United Nations last month when he said leader Kim Jong-un was strongly considering detonating “an unprecedented scale hydrogen bomb” over the Pacific after Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea.
The other step in the process, the official added is the “testing of a long-range ICBM capable of reaching Guam – and even further.”
Last week, North Korean state media renewed a threat to launch missiles toward the U.S. territory of Guam, warning that “reckless moves” by the U.S. would compel Pyongyang to take action.
North Korea first said it was looking at a plan to target the Pacific island in August after Trump warned the isolated regime would “face fire and fury like the world has never seen” following a U.S. intelligence assessment that North Korea had produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead.
Both steps are necessary for the DPRK to send that clear message to the Trump administration that it possesses an effective nuclear deterrent, the North Korean official said on Monday.
The official added that one or both of these tests could possibly be timed to coincide with the U.S.-South Korea joint naval drills, which began Monday and will last for 10 days or could even possibly coincide with Trump’s scheduled visit to Asia next month.
Joint military exercises are particularly infuriating to Pyongyang. The North Korean government has stated that it views them as a dress rehearsal for an invasion — even as the U.S. insists they are purely defensive in nature.
On Sunday, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said his diplomatic efforts will go on as long as they possibly can despite the threat of force on both sides of the Pacific.
“Those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops,” Tillerson said in an interview with CNN’s State Of The Union.
Democratic Representative Brendan Boyle of the House Foreign Affairs Committee told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview Monday that he believes the U.S. needs to find a balance between pursuing diplomacy with Pyongyang but ultimately, preventing North Korea from developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the U.S.
“I don’t believe we can live with that possibility,” he said.
[Featured Image by Susan Walsh/AP Images]