US downplays North Korea's ability to fire nuclear arsenal

Kim Jong Un inspecting a flight drill in an undated photo released by North Korea on Feb 21.
Kim Jong Un inspecting a flight drill in an undated photo released by North Korea on Feb 21. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Pentagon downplayed the risk from North Korea's nuclear arsenal, after President Kim Jong Un said the country's nuclear weapons must be ready for pre-emptive use at "anytime."

"The US government assessment has not changed," a US defence official told AFP on Thursday (March 3) US time.

"We have not seen North Korea test or demonstrate the ability to miniaturise a nuclear weapon and put it on an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile.)"

Still, the official added, "our forces are ready to counter-eliminate strikes if necessary."

The United States has extensive ballistic missile defence systems and constantly monitors North Korea.

Mr Kim was quoted on Friday (March 4) local time by the official KCNA news agency as saying: "We must always be ready to fire our nuclear warheads at any time."

He also warned that the situation on the divided Korean peninsula had become so dangerous that the North needed to shift its military strategy to one of "pre-emptive attack."

Such bellicose rhetoric is almost routine for North Korea at times of elevated tensions.

The United Nations has adopted its toughest sanctions to date on Pyongyang over a recent nuclear test and rocket launch.

Subscribe now and choose from eight amazing gifts! Plus, stand to win a trip to anywhere in the world or a luxurious stay at Resorts World Sentosa! Find out more at bit.ly/STsuboffer