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North Korea will keep testing missiles and nukes, says defense agency



WASHINGTON — North Korea has three long-range missiles, two of which can hit the U.S., and will likely continue its nuclear and missile testing, says the head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency in a new worldwide threat assessment.

Despite sanctions and international condemnation, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “shows no interest in voluntarily walking away from his nuclear or missile programs, which he has made central to his security strategy,” wrote Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley in an assessment to be delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.

“Additional missile launches — from short range to intercontinental range — are a near certainty,” wrote Ashley, “and further nuclear tests are possible as Pyongyang seeks to refine its weapon designs.”

Ashley’s remarks were prepared before Tuesday morning’s news that South Korean officials say Kim Jong Un is willing to talk to the U.S. about eliminating his nuclear arsenal and would suspend nuclear and missile testing during those negotiations.

“The North Korean side clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize,” said the South Korean president’s office in a statement after meetings between South Korean envoys and Kim Jong Un. “It made it clear that it would have no reason to keep nuclear weapons if the military threat to the North was eliminated and its security guaranteed.”

North Korean capabilities

Ashley said that North Korea tested two types of intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017 that could hit the U.S., a Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15. Pyongyang also tested two Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missiles over Japan last year, the second of which “demonstrated a capability to range more than 3,700 kilometers, which can reach beyond Guam.” 

Ashley’s assessment also detailed North Korea’s formidable non-nuclear threats.

Pyongyang’s shorter range ballistic arsenal threatens Seoul more than ever, according to Ashley. North Korea has thousands of long-range artillery and rocket systems along the demilitarized zone and a nearly operational close-range ballistic missile capable of reaching Seoul and major U.S. air and ground bases farther south.

Image: Robert Ashley

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13, 2018.