WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA believes North Korea’s missile program is aimed at coercion, not just self-defense, and that Pyongyang’s next logical step would be to develop an arsenal of weapons and the capability to fire multiple missiles at the United States, the agency’s director Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.
Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Pompeo also said a key risk of allowing North Korea to develop its nuclear and missile program was proliferation to other countries.
Pompeo said U.S. President Donald Trump’s focus was on a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but the Central Intelligence Agency was working to provide him with a range of other options should that fail.
He said he had talked last week about North Korean being “a handful of months” away from being able make a nuclear attack on the United States.
“I said the same thing several months before that,” he said and added: “I want everybody to understand that we are working diligently to make sure that a year from now I can still tell you they are several months away from having that capacity.”
Pompeo said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s logical next step would be to develop an arsenal of weapons that could reliably threaten the United States and the capacity for multiple, simultaneous launches.
“Our mission is to make the day that he can do that as far off as possible.”
Pompeo said the CIA believed Kim’s aim was more than just deterrence against the United States to preserve his rule and that he would use his weapons for his ultimate goal of reunification of Korea under his control.
He declined to comment when asked if there was were viable options for limited strikes on North Korean weapons sites that would not lead to nuclear war, but added:
“We are working to prepare a series of options to make sure we can deliver a range of things so that the president will have the full sweep of possibilities.
“The president is intent on delivering a solution through diplomatic means ... We are equally, at the same time, ensuring that if we conclude that is not possible, that we present the president with a range of options that can achieve his stated intention,” he said.
“I’ll leave to others to address the capacity or the wisdom of pre-emptive strike. From an intelligence perspective, we’re trying to ensure that all the various options that the president might want to consider are fully informed, that we understand what’s really going on and the risks associated with each of those decisions as best we can identify them for him.”
The Trump administration has said all options are on the table in dealing with North Korea and officials say the president and his advisers have discussed the possibility of a limited strike. But debate on military options has lost some momentum in recent weeks after North and South Korea resumed talks ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics in the South.
Pompeo said U.S. intelligence on North Korea had improved in the past year and “remarkable creativity” had helped in the interdiction of shipments to North Korea violating U.N. sanctions.
“We’re not quite where we need to be; our mission is not complete, but we have officers all round the world working diligently to make sure we do everything we can to support the U.S. pressure campaign to tighten the sanctions.”
Reporting by David Brunnstrom and David Alexander; Editing by James Dalgleish