WASHINGTON — Reports from U.S. and Japanese intelligence that North Korea has miniaturized a nuclear warhead to fit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile sparked a warning of “fire and fury” retaliation from President Trump and a comparison to the Cuban Missile Crisis from a House Republican.
A new 500-page-plus white paper from Japan’s defense ministry found that Kim Jong-un’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs had “advanced considerably” and “are becoming increasingly real and imminent problems for the Asia-Pacific region including Japan, as well as the rest of the world.”
“It is conceivable that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has already considerably advanced and it is possible that North Korea has already achieved the miniaturization of nuclear weapons into warheads and has acquired nuclear warheads,” the report, which the Guardian described as “vague,” said.
The Washington Post today reported on a confidential assessment from the Defense Intelligence Agency that found North Korea has miniaturized warheads. Kim has up to 60 nuclear weapons in his arsenal, though experts vary on the exact estimate.
“The IC [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles,” the assessment states, according to the Post.
At the conclusion of the president’s comments about opioid addiction during a roundtable meeting on the crisis at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump was asked about the report.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Trump replied. “He has been very threatening beyond a normal statement. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Earlier today, North Korea slammed new unanimous UN Security Council sanctions designed to squeeze the regime’s natural resources export revenue as “an outright challenge” to Kim’s power.
“As we’ve already said, we’ll take a stern action of justice, as long as the U.S. has ultimately produced the UNSC resolution aimed at violating our sovereignty and rights to survival and development. We’re ready to use the last resort of any kind without hesitation,” said a government statement issued by the official Korean Central News Agency.
“The countries that the U.S. thanked for colluding in working out the villainous sanctions resolution… can never shirk responsibility for further aggravating the situation on the Korean Peninsula and putting the regional peace and security at risk,” Pyongyang added of their trade partners Russia and China.
KCNA responded to Trump’s “fire and fury” vow by announcing they’re “carefully examining” plans to strike Guam. The state-run media said the plan could be “put into practice in a multi-current and consecutive way any moment” if Kim gives the green light.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the reports, if true, constitute “undoubtedly” the greatest such crisis “since the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
“And the correlation is very similar. This is something that can hit us and our allies and it’s with a rogue nation that we suspect would use it. As Rex Tillerson, Secretary Tillerson, goes around enforcing the unanimous Security Council resolution to cut off the funding to this regime, it’s go to be done in real time. It’s got to be done now,” Issa told CNN.
Military action, he added, “has to be the backup plan” and diplomacy needs to be Plan A.
“Cutting off the last, if you will, couple of billion dollars of hard money to this regime cuts the ability for this dictator, Kim Jong-un, to fund his generals, to fund the regime that ultimately, you have seen him. He’s not the general in charge. People don’t follow him because they’re inspired. They follow this dictator because he doles out some of the very limited money to his generals,” Issa said.
“The last dollar doesn’t go in North Korea doesn’t go to the people. It goes to the general and to the weapons program. And, finally, we are on the path toward cutting off all funds. If we cut off all currency, hard currency to this regime, this regime is going to have to choose, nuclear weapons or an internal problem that this dictator probably cannot deal with… I think you have to assume that at least his generals are not crazy, are not suicidal. And they will make sure that his decisions are consistent with the survival of the regime. And if we cut off the money, as we now are doing, in a way that threatens the survival of the regime, unless they change their behavior, I believe we have a chance at changing the behavior peacefully.”
On May 1, Trump told Bloomberg news that “if it would be appropriate for me to meet with [Kim], I would, absolutely. I would be honored to do it.”
“Most political people would never say that,” the president added, “but I’m telling you, under the right circumstances, I would meet with him. We have breaking news.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN that the administration needs to “carefully calibrate statements, threats and actions,” being mindful of U.S. service members in Asia.
Coons said there is no question that North Korea has “dozens” of nuclear weapons and has test-detonated several, but “the question is can they accurately deliver them.”
Stressing that the situation is “extremely dangerous,” the senator added, “I hope the Trump administration will proceed cautiously… there is no good military option” as Pyongyang would exact “punishing revenge” on South Korea as soon as the U.S. conducted a first strike.
Coons called for “measured, careful but decisive American leadership in the region.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) noted the “past track record hasn’t been good” when it comes to relying on China to rein in North Korea.
“The United States is in a position as it relates to multilateral diplomacy and economic pressure to rely on China. It’s really just a few days old since China passed — they did vote for what happens at the Security Council. So we want to — we need to give them that opportunity,” Zeldin told CNN. “Although, as we see from today’s news, that opportunity for China to do right is one that needs to be tested imminently because we don’t really have time. This is becoming more urgent and more time sensitive as the days go on.”
This story was updated at 6:30 p.m. EST