By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL/WASHINGTON, Aug. 6 (Yonhap) — North Korea continues to push aggressively to develop long-range nuclear missiles capable of striking the U.S. homeland through a “very deliberate testing program” for systems improvement, a senior Pentagon official has said.
Victorino G. Mercado, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, made the remarks during the 2020 Space and Missile Defense Symposium held online on Tuesday (Washington time), according to the transcript posted on the Pentagon website on Thursday.
“North Korea has worked aggressively to develop nuclear-capable long-range ballistic missiles able to threaten the homeland, allies and partners,” Mercado said. “Despite our ongoing diplomatic efforts, North Korea continues to expand its ballistic missile capabilities and conduct test launches despite international restrictions.”
The official noted that while many often highlight its failed launches, the regime “has a very deliberate testing program where they push their technological limits, learn from failures and demonstrate continual improvement.”
As denuclearization negotiations between the United States and North Korea have made little progress since the no-deal summit in Hanoi last year, Pyongyang has been focusing on its missile and other conventional weapons such as multiple rocket launchers, though it has refrained from test-firing long-range missiles since 2017.
North Korea is believed to have several types of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), including the Hwasong-15 that is capable of striking any part of the U.S. mainland, according to data by the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).
“U.S. missile defenses strengthen the leverage of our diplomats at the negotiating table, such as talks with North Korea on denuclearization, by demonstrating our ability to counter its threats of nuclear attack,” the assistant secretary said, adding that its missile defense system also serves as “insurance” against the possible failure of deterrence and diplomacy.
North Korea is believed to have secured a considerable level of technology to miniaturize a nuclear warhead for ballistic missiles, according to South Korea’s defense ministry. The U.N. also reportedly said in a recent classified paper that Pyongyang has probably developed miniaturized nuclear devices to fit into its ballistic missile warheads.
Late last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that the country’s security and future will be guaranteed forever “thanks to our reliable and effective self-defense nuclear deterrence.”