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(3rd LD) U.S. commander: N. Korea can 'range continental U.S.' with ICBM

All Headlines 05:46 March 11, 2016

(ATTN: UPDATES with Pentagon briefing)
By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, March 10 (Yonhap) -- North Korea can "range the continental United States" with an intercontinental ballistic missile and it would be prudent to assume Pyongyang can also miniaturize a nuclear warhead to put on an ICBM, the U.S. northern commander said Thursday.

"I assess that they have the ability to put an ICBM in space and range the continental United States and Canada," U.S. Northern Command Commander Adm. William Gortney said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Asked if the range will then clearly include Hawaii and Alaska, the commander said, "Absolutely."

On the North's nuclear missile capabilities, Gortney said, "It's the prudent decision on my part to assume that he has the capability to ... miniaturize a nuclear weapon and put it on an ICBM" and "range all of the states of the United States and Canada."

Gortney stressed that the U.S. has the ability to defend against the North Korean threat.

"We have the ability to engage that threat," he said. "The intel community gives it a very low probability at success. But I don't think that American people want to base my readiness assessment on a low probability."

North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and a long-rocket launch in February, demonstrating to the outside world that it has made strides in efforts to develop a long-range missile capable of reaching the U.S.

Earlier this week, the North released photos of what it claims was a miniaturized nuclear warhead, with leader Kim Jong-un claiming that the country succeeded in making nuclear bombs small enough to fit on ballistic missiles.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said it believes the North has not yet mastered the nuclear warhead miniaturization technology. The U.S. Defense Department also said that the communist nation has not demonstrated those capabilities yet.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Gortney's remark about miniaturization means that "he's doing what he should be doing to prepare for that threat, should it become a reality."

"And at this point, again, we've not seen them demonstrate that capability, but he is doing exactly what he should be doing in preparing his forces and our U.S. forces overall to be able to respond to that challenge," he said at a regular press briefing.

Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said he takes North Korean threats seriously.

"The nuclear test, the fourth test they just did here, and the space launch that they just did, further enhance their understanding and knowledge associated with this. North Korea has made many claims, miniaturization of nuclear warheads. They paraded around their KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile," he told the hearing.

"I think we have take these problems seriously because it's clear to me they're working hard," he said.

Meanwhile, Cook denounced North Korea's latest firing of two short-range missiles.

"It's another provocative action by the North Koreans, and only further escalates the tensions on the Korean Peninsula," he said. "Of course we're concerned by all their recent activities, the rhetoric that we're hearing from North Korea, and it just makes us stand that much closer, if you will, to our South Korean allies."

The North fired the missiles early Thursday morning (Seoul time), the latest in a series of provocative statements and acts the North has engaged in as South Korea and the U.S. have been conducting annual joint military exercises Pyongyang has long branded as a rehearsal for invasion.

jschang@yna.co.kr
(END)

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