What Is Missing from the Fiery US-North Korean Rhetoric?

Someone chose on Tuesday, Aug. 8, to stun Washington by uncovering North Korea’s success in creating a miniature nuclear weapon for ANICBM, although the story was already out unnoticed last week in a Japanese White Paper.
So why now? There are three possible explanations:
1. Someone – and there are plenty of candidates – used it as a jab to make President Donald Trump look ridiculous for tweeting after the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Korea: “After many years of failure, countries are coming together to finally address the dangers posed by North Korea. We must be tough & decisive.”
2. Trump may be setting up a limited military strike against a nuclear- or missile-related North Korean target. Tuesday night, he warned: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Wednesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis warned North Korea in a statement couched in even stronger terms: "The DPRK must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The DPRK should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people." Mattis pointed out that the DPRK regime's actions “will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates."
Mattis added that while the State Department was making diplomatic efforts, the United States and its allies have the most "precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth."
But rhetoric aside, there is no evidence that direct US military action is yet in store. In May, Mattis warned that a US-North Korean military clash “would probably be the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetime.”
3. Kim Jong-un may be preparing a new escalation with a fresh round of ballistic missile tests.
US intelligence analysts were not taken by surprise. Since early June, they have estimated that Pyongyang is making rapid strides in its nuclear and missile development. But like most such classified estimates, it was short on precise data, such as how many miniature warheads the North has manufactured and whether it had tested the mounting of a small warhead on a missile.
Some clues to the secretive North Korean program may be drawn from Iran’s technological advances in these fields, in which the two regimes are longstanding partners.
On July 26, Iran's Simorgh launched the satellite into space, thereby revealing its ability to boost small satellites weighing no more than 150-259 kg by ballistic missiles. Iranian engineers are now working on further miniaturizing the satellites down to 50-75 kg, a process applicable to and a cover for working on nuclear warheads.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources note that the Simorgh test showed Iran’s ability to build a small satellite (or warhead) atop a booster missile and launch it into space. But it lacks the technology for making it a miniature explosive nuclear warhead, which Pyongyang has achieved. The North, for its party, has apparently not yet mastered the method for mounting its tiny warhead on a ballistic missile, which Iran appears to have achieved.
According to our information, Iran showcased the Simorgh launch ahead of the arrival in Tehran of North Korea’s Parliament Speaker Kim Yong Nam, No.2 in the North Korean hierarchy and a key adviser to the ruler on nuclear affairs.
The formal pretexts for the visit were the new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s swearing-in for his second term in office and the inauguration of a new embassy in Tehran.
At the same time, Kim Yong Nam brought with him a large military delegation for an unusually lengthy visit of ten days. They used the ceremonies for quiet, exhaustive bargaining with the heads of Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and heads of the Revolutionary Guards Corps on a tradeoff if the elements each lacks for crossing the threshold to becoming fully-fledged nuclear powers.
Meanwhile, US intelligence, dismayed by the Iranian Simorgh test, bent over backwards to prove it a flop. The US Strategic Command first reported that an Iranian satellite was not deployed from the rocket, as Tehran claimed. A day later, on July 28, “fresh intelligence assessments” confirmed yet another failure by the Islamic Republic in its mission to place an operational satellite in orbit – something Tehran has never done before.
Other American sources later elaborated on this by claiming the Iranian rocket “suffered catastrophic failure, likely blew up.”
The Americans hoped that their failed mark for the Iranian test would put off the North Korean delegation’s visit to Tehran. Because it was not true, the ruse didn’t work, and so the delegation from Pyongyang, consisting mainly of nuclear and missile experts, landed in Tehran on schedule.
Solid information on how far the two would-be nuclear rogue governments were ready to share their nuclear and missile secrets – and at what price – is hard to come by. But one can’t see the North Koreans crossing the line and going all the way to handing Iran their precious technology for miniaturizing an explosive nuclear missile warhead that can be fitted onto a ballistic missile. That is the most valuable asset in Kim Jung-un’s war chest.
Letting the dictator of Pyongyang get so far was not Washington’s only mistake. Its over-reliance on UN Security Council sanctions, backed by China and Russia, told Kim that the Trump administration had no recourse for dealing with his nuclear aspirations other than the military option.
But it is hard to see the US president going at this time for the military course, which is widely seen as a recipe for a kind of Armageddon. North Korea, like the Revolutionary Republic of Iran prior to the 2015 nuclear deal, has long learned to live with sanctions. Pyongyang has ways of getting around the ban on its sales of coal, steel and other exports.
Had the administration seriously wanted to strangle the North’s economy, it would have choked off its foreign currency transactions, which mostly go through American and European banks. But so far, no one has taken that road.

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