US warns of N Korea missile as Kerry arrives in Seoul
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US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Seoul on Friday as news broke of a report compiled by the US military spy agency that suggested Pyongyang had the ability to launch a nuclear-armed ballistic missile.
A spy agency report released by the Pentagon on Thursday has concluded with “moderate confidence” that North Korea has developed a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile, an assessment swiftly dismissed by several US officials and South Korea.
The news broke as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Seoul for a whirlwind three-day tour of Asia, during which he is expected to push China to rein in an increasingly belligerent North Korea. The trip will include stops in Beijing and Tokyo on what is being seen by observers as a "getting to know you" tour.
Kerry was due to be briefed on the tensions from top US military commanders on the ground in South Korea, ahead of meetings with new South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se.
Park said late on Thursday she was open to resume dialogue with the North and would continue to offer humanitarian aid, leaving observers waiting for a reaction from the US.
“North Korea will definitely be at the top of the agenda of Kerry’s meetings in Seoul,” FRANCE 24’s Andrew Salmon reported from the capital. “Observers will be interested to know whether Kerry follows President Park in announcing that the United States is also willing to speak to the North.
“But there is a strong sense from the US that they should not reward bad behavior, and perhaps negotiations might be seen as a reward for North Korea in this case,” he said.
Following Thursday’s report by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), South Korea's Defence Ministry said it did not believe North Korea could mount a nuclear warhead on a missile.
The debate focuses on whether Pyongyang has a warhead small enough to mount on a missile and whether it can then ensure that missile re-enters the earth’s atmosphere.
“Our military’s assessment is that the North has not yet miniaturised,” South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told a news briefing. “North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests but there is doubt whether it is at the stage where they can reduce the weight and miniaturise to mount on a missile.”
Even the Pentagon said it was "inaccurate" to infer Pyongyang had the proven ability to launch a nuclear missile.
The DIA was criticised after the start of the Iraq war in 2003 for being too bullish in predicting Baghdad might have weapons of mass destruction.
North Korea, claiming the United States is planning to invade, has threatened Washington and Seoul with nuclear war, although most experts say Pyongyang has no intention of starting a conflict that would likely bring its own destruction.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)