A nuclear expert who has repeatedly visited North Korea’s nuclear facilities said he doubted the country was yet capable of attacking Guam with medium to long-range missiles, saying escalating rhetoric from both the North and the US was the real danger.
Siegfried Hecker, a professor at Stanford University’s Centre for International Security and Co-operation, said although the North tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month, developing a nuclear warhead for such a missile was “extremely challenging and still beyond North Korea’s reach”.
Prof Hecker said the real threat was “stumbling into an inadvertent nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula by misunderstanding or miscalculation”.
“Inflammatory rhetoric on both sides will make that more likely,” he added.
Meanwhile authorities in Guam are reassuring citizens that the US territory is safe, following North Korea’s claim that it is examining its plan for “making an enveloping fire” around the strategically important Pacific island.
Governor Eddie Baza Calvo said there was no threat to Guam or to the Mariana Islands to the north.
He added that he would continue discussions with Joint Region Marianas commander Rear Admiral Shoshana Chatfield to discuss military and first-responder readiness, to ensure Guam was “prepared for any eventuality”.
Guam congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo said Pentagon officials had assured her that the territory was protected.
But Ms Bordallo was critical of US president Donald Trump’s vow to answer North Korea “with fire and fury like the world has never seen” if Pyongyang continued to threaten America, urging him to work with the international community to de-escalate tensions.