WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - The CIA believes North Korea's missile program is aimed at coercion, not just self-defense, and that Pyongyang's next logical step would be to develop an arsenal of weapons and the capability to fire multiple missiles at the United States, the agency's director Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday.
Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute, Pompeo also said a key risk of allowing North Korea to develop its nuclear and missile program was proliferation to other countries.
Pompeo said U.S. President Donald Trump's focus was on a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but the Central Intelligence Agency was working to provide him with a range of other options should that fail.
He said he had talked last week about North Korea being "a handful of months" away from being able to make a nuclear attack on the United States.
Key moments in 2017 between US and North Korea
Key moments in 2017 between US and North Korea
NEW YEARS DAY MISSILE LAUNCH
On January 1, 2017, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un warned that an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was in the 'final stages' of development.
During a visit to North Korea's border on March 17, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was unwittingly photographed by a North Korean soldier, who can be seen peering into the room on the right side of the image.
President Trump called North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un 'a pretty smart cookie' in an interview that went viral on April 30.
'At a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie,' Trump told CBS News.
The president also said he'd be 'honored' to meet with the North Korean leader.
KIM JONG UN'S LETTER TO CONGRESS
In early May, North Korea said it would continue its nuclear weapons tests and boost force 'to the maximum' in a stark warning to the U.S.
U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said North Korea's actions were 'quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution' and that the United States was prepared to use force 'if we must.'
'PILE OF ASH'
In a bold statement, North Korea threatened to turn the U.S. into a 'pile of ash' on July 12.
US THREATENED WITH 'MERCILESS BLOW'
On July 27, a North Korean spokesperson said, 'Should the U.S. dare to show even the slightest sign of attempt to remove our supreme leadership, we will strike a merciless blow at the heart of the U.S. with our powerful nuclear hammer, honed and hardened over time.'
On December 20, it was reported that North Korea is testing whether its ICBM weapons are capable of carrying anthrax.
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"I said the same thing several months before that," he said and added: "I want everybody to understand that we are working diligently to make sure that a year from now I can still tell you they are several months away from having that capacity."
Pompeo said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's logical next step would be to develop an arsenal of weapons that could reliably threaten the United States and the capacity for multiple, simultaneous launches.
"Our mission is to make the day that he can do that as far off as possible."
Pompeo said the CIA believed Kim's aim was more than just deterrence against the United States to preserve his rule and that he would use his weapons for his ultimate goal of reunification of Korea under his control.
He declined to comment when asked if there was were viable options for limited strikes on North Korean weapons sites that would not lead to nuclear war, but added:
"We are working to prepare a series of options to make sure we can deliver a range of things so that the president will have the full sweep of possibilities.
"The president is intent on delivering a solution through diplomatic means ... We are equally, at the same time, ensuring that if we conclude that is not possible, that we present the president with a range of options that can achieve his stated intention," he said.
"I'll leave to others to address the capacity or the wisdom of pre-emptive strike. From an intelligence perspective, we're trying to ensure that all the various options that the president might want to consider are fully informed, that we understand what's really going on and the risks associated with each of those decisions as best we can identify them for him."
The Trump administration has said all options are on the table in dealing with North Korea and officials say the president and his advisers have discussed the possibility of a limited strike. But debate on military options has lost some momentum in recent weeks after North and South Korea resumed talks ahead of next month's Winter Olympics in the South.
Pompeo said U.S. intelligence on North Korea had improved in the past year and "remarkable creativity" had helped in the interdiction of shipments to North Korea violating U.N. sanctions.
"We’re not quite where we need to be; our mission is not complete, but we have officers all round the world working diligently to make sure we do everything we can to support the U.S. pressure campaign to tighten the sanctions." (Reporting by David Brunnstrom and David Alexander; Editing by James Dalgleish)