WASHINGTON (AFP) – The commander of US forces in South Korea said Friday that North Korea likely has the ability to produce a nuclear warhead that could be mounted on a missile, but officials later sought to downplay his remarks.
The comments by the commander echoed an internal debate among US spy agencies that came to light last year, in which the military’s intelligence service warned the North was closer to achieving a nuclear-tipped missile than previously believed.
General Curtis Scaparrotti told a news conference the North Korean regime’s pursuit of atomic weapons had progressed to the point where it could probably create a nuclear device to be fitted on the tip of a missile, a major development in the North’s nuclear ambitions.
But the general said he had no evidence to back up his view and that there was no sign the North had tested such a device.
“They’ve had the right connections, and so I believe have the capability to have miniaturized a device at this point, and they have the technology to potentially actually deliver what they say they have,” the general said.
“We have not seen it tested. And I don’t think as a commander we can afford the luxury of believing perhaps they haven’t gotten there,” he said.
Pressed by reporters as to whether North Korea could manufacture a nuclear warhead, Scaparrotti offered a more cautious assessment.