New North Korea Document Riles Lawmakers

Pentagon has "moderate confidence" North Korea can fit a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile.

The Korean People's Army conducts a military drill in North Korea.
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International debate over how seriously to take North Korea's saber-rattling continued after a Pentagon assessment of the country's nuclear capabilities became public Thursday. The assessment indicated evidence exists that the Asian country has a nuclear weapon small enough to mount on a ballistic missile and aim at a target abroad.

In a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado quoted the declassified Defense Intelligence Agency assessment:

D.I.A. assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles; however the reliability will be low.

[See a collection of political cartoons on North Korea.]

North Korea, which has a known history of making nuclear threats and then backing off, has made increasingly escalatory statements in the past few weeks aimed at South Korea and the United States. Yet its lack of follow through in the past has led the international community to take the threats of leader Kim Jong Un with a grain of salt. South Korea questioned the North's ability to mount a nuclear weapon on a rocket, issuing a statement saying, "we have doubt that North Korea has reached the stage of miniaturization."

Following the House hearing, Director of National Intellience James Clapper also cast doubt on North Korea's level of nuclear technology, saying "North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile." Yet in a separate hearing in front of the House Intelligence Committee, he said "North Korea has already demonstrated capabilities that threaten the United States and the security environment in East Asia."

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should the U.S. Take North Korea's Saber-Rattling Seriously?]

North Korea conducted a nuclear test earlier this year. Clapper said with the lack of information available about Kim's nuclear motives, "there's no telling how he's going to behave."  

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in South Korea Friday on a previously scheduled trip, and will then travel to China in an attempt to encourage North Korea's closest ally to call off Kim.

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