Carney: North Korea not capable of launching nuclear-armed missile

The White House sought to soothe concerns over North Korea's nuclear capabilities Friday, flatly declaring that the country is not yet capable of launching a missile.

"It is our assessment that North Korea has not demonstrated the capability to deploy a nuclear-armed missile," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

A report by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency that was disclosed in a congressional hearing on Thursday claimed with "moderate confidence" that North Korea has the ability to launch a nuclear attack.

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the House Intelligence committee on Thursday that North Korea was moving to deploy the nuclear weapon, but had not yet done so.

"We believe [North Korea] has already taken initial steps toward fielding this system, although it remains untested," Clapper said.

The Pentagon has insisted since Thursday’s disclosure that there is little evidence that North Korea could fire a missile accurately. Carney said that it would difficult for the country to take the next step in its weapons program.

"Obviously the North Koreans have tested nuclear weapons and they have developed some missile technology. What they have not demonstrated is a capability to ... attach a weapon to a nuclear weapon and fire it," Carney said.

Secretary of State John Kerry echoed that sentiment in his remarks in Seoul Friday morning.

“It is inaccurate to suggest that the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] has fully tested, developed, and demonstrated capabilities that are articulated in that report,” Kerry said.

“But obviously, they have conducted a nuclear test so there is some kind of device. But that is very different from miniaturization and delivery and from tested delivery and other things. Does it get you closer to a line that is more dangerous? Yes.”

Still, the White House said it was taking "prudent actions" to respond to North Korea's movements.

"You should not mistake that for anything but serious concern about the actions, behavior, and rhetoric from North Korea, which is why we've taken the steps that we've taken," Carney said.

The White House urged North Korea to take "an alternate path" following reports from South Korean military analysts suggesting Pyongyang is gearing up for the launch of several long-range missiles as soon as next week.

"We take this seriously," Carney said. "It is, as I've said in the past, reminiscent of past periods of provocative actions and increased bellicose rhetoric."