- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2016

Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense Han Min Koo said Thursday that North Korea has “shown their limits” in development of nuclear weapons, in light of Pyongyang’s recent failed nuclear missile test earlier this week.

“They failed five times consecutively and succeeded on the sixth time,” Mr. Koo said, referring to Pyongyang’s spotty test record for its nuclear weapons program during a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at the Pentagon.

“They’re conducting these [test] launches and through these failed tests, they’ve shown their limits,” he said adding that North Korea’s pursuit of high-profile nuclear weapon drills are purely for “political purposes” and have little chance in resulting in a viable atomic weapon.

His comments were a remarkable shift from recent rhetoric coming from Seoul on the potential threat North Korea’s nuclear weapon’s program poses to South Korea and U.S. allies in the Pacific.

Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told The Associated Press in June that North Korea had demonstrated a “certain level of capability” in its nuclear program, after a series of dramatic ballistic missile tests that month.

With an anticipated range of between 1,800 to 2,500 miles, a fully functional Musudan would be able to deliver a nuclear warhead on targets in Japan and as far as Guam, a major military hub for U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region.

But Pyongyang’s program seems to have plateaued in recent weeks, only achieving a single successful test fire of its Musudan intercontinental ballistic missile since its development in early 2000.

Wednesday’s test fire of the Musudan ended in failure, according to U.S. Strategic Command, marking the North Korea’s second failed missile test in the past five days.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un reportedly attended the tests, which took place near the northwestern city of Kusong, according to state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Despite those failures, the United States and its Pacific allies must remain vigilant on the North Korean nuclear threat, including deploying advanced anti-missile weapon systems into South Korea, Mr. Carter said Thursday.

“We work very hard to anticipate and stay ahead of any possible developments in the North Korea missile threat,” he said. “Our missile defense and other efforts are intended to stay ahead of whatever might happen in the various North Korean missile programs.”

U.S. military officials have long defended the deployments of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, into South Korea as an integral part of curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

But the move has roiled top officials in China, with Beijing claiming the weapons are capable of not only targeting ballistic missile threats from North Korea, but also China’s missile defense systems.

Chinese defense officials have threatened to break off cooperation with U.S.-led efforts to curb the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Chinese diplomats blocked efforts by the U.N. Security Council condemning North Korea’s most recent missile tests, refusing to approve a council statement on the tests without language opposing the planned THAAD deployments to South Korea.

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