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(4th LD) N. Korea says it has miniaturized nuclear warheads

All News 16:48 March 09, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with Seoul reaction in paras 12-14)

SEOUL, March 9 (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Wednesday it has made nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles in its latest threat to South Korea and the United States, which have recently begun their annual joint military drills.

At a meeting with nuclear scientists and technicians, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that his country has made a nuclear bomb lighter and achieved its "standardization," according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

"The nuclear warheads have been standardized to be fit for ballistic missiles by miniaturizing them," Kim was quoted as saying by the KCNA. "This can be called true nuclear deterrent."

It marked the first time that the North's leader directly commented on the country's advances in miniaturizing nuclear warheads.

North Korea has made efforts to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching as far as the U.S. mainland, and the country has insisted that it entered the technological phase to miniaturize and even diversify its nuclear bombs.

Such claims, however, have not been verified by outside experts who have been doubtful of Pyongyang's boasts.

A week ago, the United Nations Security Council adopted a new sanctions resolution punishing the North for its Jan. 6 nuclear test and Feb. 7 long-range rocket launch.

The North said its long-range rocket launch was to send a satellite into orbit, but Seoul and Washington view it as a cover for a banned test of ballistic missile technology.

Experts say long-range rockets and intercontinental ballistic missiles are basically the same, differing only in payload.

In a display of its military prowess, North Korea unveiled a photo on Wednesday of what appears to be a mockup of a round-shaped nuclear warhead that could be mounted atop the KN-08 missile.

The KN-08, a mobile intercontinental ballistic missile system, may have a range of some 12,000 kilometers that is sufficient to reach parts of the U.S. mainland. But the North has not conducted a test of that missile.

South Korea immediately refuted Pyongyang's claimed possession of a miniaturized warhead and denounced the latest nuclear threats.

"A repeat of such provocative threats is an unforgivable challenge to the international community especially at a time when strong UNSC sanctions are being implemented against North Korea's fourth nuclear test and missile launch," the defense ministry said in a statement.

"The ministry does not think the North has a miniaturized nuclear warhead, and nor does it have the ability to deploy the KN-08 for actual use," the statement said.

The U.S. Pentagon also said Tuesday that Washington has not seen the North demonstrate the capability to miniaturize a warhead.

"With regard to the ballistic missile threat, we still feel confident that we can deter and respond to a missile threat from North Korea," said Peter Cook, Pentagon press secretary.

Analysts said that Kim's comments on smaller nuclear bombs seem to reflect the North's jitters as Seoul and Washington kicked off their largest-ever joint military drills on Monday. The North claims the drills are a rehearsal for a northward invasion.

Earlier this week, Pyongyang threatened to take pre-emptive nuclear strikes against South Korea and the United States so that they may deal "merciless deadly blows" to them.

This year's drills mobilize a record high of some 17,000 U.S. troops, along with other military assets.

"It was very rare that the North's leader has come to the front in displaying his country's nuclear capabilities," said Chang Yong-seok, a researcher at the Seoul National University Institute for Peace and Unification Studies.

He said that the North's reaction seems to indicate that the country's regime views the Seoul-Washington joint exercise as very grave.



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