'North Korean nuclear program poses existential threat to U.S.'

North Korea's nuclear program poses a potential "existential threat" to the United States, says Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

Ben Ariel,

Dan Coats
Dan Coats

North Korea's nuclear program poses a potential "existential threat" to the United States, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned on Tuesday.

"The decision time is becoming ever closer in terms of how we respond to this," Coats said in remarks to the Senate Intelligence Committee, quoted by AFP.

"Our goal is a peaceful settlement," he stressed. "We're using maximum pressure on North Korea in various ways."

Asked about Pyongyang's nuclear program, Coats said "this is an existential threat, potentially to the United States, but also to North Korea."

North Korean leader "Kim Jong Un views this as -- any kind of a kinetic attack or effort to force him to give up his nuclear weapons -- is an existential threat to his nation and to his leadership in particular," Coats said.

"The provocative nature and the instability that Kim has demonstrated potentially is a significant threat to the United States," he added.

Tensions have been high between the U.S. and North Korea in recent months as Pyongyang has continued testing intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that had the potential range of reaching the United States mainland.

Most recently, it launched a Hwasong-15 missile, a new type of ICBM which officials said can fly over 13,000 km (8,080 miles).

Pyongyang said following that launch as well that that it had test-fired its most advanced missile, putting the U.S. mainland within range, and also declared itself to be "a responsible nuclear power".

CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the BBC several weeks ago that he believes North Korea may be able to strike the U.S. within "a handful of months."

Pompeo also said that President Donald Trump's language helped Kim understand that "America is serious." However, he warned that the CIA talks about Kim "having the ability to deliver nuclear weapons to the United States in a matter of a handful of months."

He did not, however, explain what steps the U.S. might take, noting only that "many things are possible."

A top American general later said that while North Korea has made new advances in its ICBM program, it has not yet demonstrated all the capabilities needed to hit America with such a weapon.

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