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(LEAD) N. Korea has 'small number' of nuclear weapons: U.S. general

All News 23:25 September 17, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead; UPDATES with additional remarks from Hyten, more information and background in paras 6-13; ADDS photo)
By Byun Duk-kun

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has a "small number" of nuclear weapons, the vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday,

Gen. John Hyten told a virtual forum that the specific numbers were "classified" and in many ways hard to understand.

"But a small number is a confident characterization of nuclear capabilities that can threaten their neighbors or the United States," he said in a symposium hosted by the National Defense University's Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Hyten offered no further explanation of what he meant by "a small number."

This image, captured from the website of the U.S. Department of Defense, shows Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Yonhap)

The U.S. has never officially discussed its assessment of North Korea's nuclear capabilities, but the communist state is widely estimated to possess more than 70 nuclear warheads.

North Korea has conducted a total of six nuclear tests, between October 2006 and September 2017.

Hyten's remark follows a recently renewed controversy, at least in Seoul, over Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities.

In his latest book, "Rage," Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward discusses U.S. response to a North Korean attack that he says could include the use of up to 80 nuclear weapons.

While the statement is largely believed to describe the U.S.' possible use of nuclear weapons in response to an attack, some in South Korea insisted it described a North Korean attack that could include 80 nuclear weapons.

Hyten also stressed that U.S. homeland defense starts not with its missile defense system but with its strategic deterrent.

"It's important that we realize that defense begins not with the missile defense capabilities, which I'm very confident can defend ourselves against the North Korean threat. But that's not where the defense of the homeland begins. The defense of the homeland begins with our strategic deterrent," he told the symposium.

The United States' deterrence includes the airmen that remain alert on their B-2 bombers and sailors on their Ohio-class submarines, Hyten said.

The U.S. also continues to enhance its deterrent, he added, noting the B-2 bombers will soon be replaced by the B-21 and B-52 bombers and the Ohio-class submarines by the Columbia-class submarines armed with "nuclear weapons on board."

bdk@yna.co.kr
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