In the wake of a pressure campaign from Beijing, South Korea's defense ministry on Monday dismissed comments by a U.S. military official who said North Korea is able to mount a nuclear weapon on a missile capable of threatening the U.S. mainland, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Adm. William Gortney, head of the U.S. Northern Command, said Pyongyang has the capability of mounting a nuclear weapon on the KN-08, a North Korean ICBM, and fire it at the continental United States. Gortney made the blockbuster revelation last week, veteran defense analyst Mark Langfan wrote in Arutz Sheva
Gortney expressed confidence that the U.S. could knock down such a missile if launched by North Korea or Iran. But he also acknowledged that it is "very difficult" for the United States to counter the threat because U.S. intelligence cannot follow these mobile ICBMs to provide a warning that they are about to be launched, the Israeli website reported.
South Korean Vice Defense Minister Baek Seung-joo, speaking Monday in Seoul, said Gortney's remarks were "not made with a thorough assessment of North Korea’s capabilities."
A South Korean defense ministry spokesman said his government's position is that while Pyongyang has reduced the size of a nuclear device, it has yet to produce one small enough to place on a missile, the Journal reported.
The Pentagon on Monday stood behind Gortney’s assessment of North Korea's capabilities and said the admiral's views were in line with the U.S. position that it must plan for the worst-case scenario.
The disagreement over the North Korean nuclear ICBM threat could complicate talks
on deploying a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery.
China has pressured Seoul to reject the THAAD, apparently over concerns that it could also be used to restrain Beijing, according to the Journal. "We hope that China’s concerns and worries [about THAAD] will be respected," Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao said during a recent visit to the South Korean capital.
The possibility of an ICBM strike has created added concern in the wake of comments by Gortney (who also serves as commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command) about the need to counter a possible North Korean electromagnetic pulse attack targeting South Korea, Langfan reported.
Such an attack could likely result in the 40,000 U.S. Marines protecting South Korea becoming POWs, Langfan reported, because EMP attacks disable electronic equipment rather than kill human beings.
Given the longstanding military cooperation between Tehran and Pyongyang, it is likely that any nuclear-EMP technology mastered by North Korea has already been shared with Iran. Therefore, "the EMP-proliferation danger from North Korea to Iran is a catastrophic danger," Langfan concluded.
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