A former official said during an interview on the sidelines of the Asan Plenum 2016 in South Korea the United States has not ruled out using nuclear weapons against North Korea.

Robert Einhorn, former special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control at the State Department, said “the U.S. has said that it is prepared if necessary to use nuclear weapons first—whether in Europe or in East Asia—to support South Korea and Japan. This remains U.S. policy.”

Einhorn added the United States has never adopted a “no-first-use policy.”

“One of the reasons why not exclude that is the potential existence of a threat to South Korea by the North Koreans,” he said.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Danny Russel said last week the United States and Japan may take unspecified “defense-related measures” if North Korea conducts a fifth nuclear test.

U.S. officials claim North Korea has exaggerated its nuclear potential. A reported underground nuclear test on January 6 produced a 5.1-magnitude quake, indicating the yield was around 6 kilotons. Data indicates the bomb was a standard fission device. After the test, the North Korea government claimed it had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb. The yield of a thermonuclear device is between 15,000 and 50,000 kilotons.

“It was much more modest than they claimed,” said James Clapper on Monday. “It’s hard to say what they are trying.” Clapper is the Director of National Intelligence.

“The right to make a preemptive nuclear strike is by no means a monopoly of the U.S.,” the Korean Central News Agency said last month, paraphrasing Kim during a visit with engineers working on a miniature warhead project. “If the U.S. imperialists infringe upon the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s sovereignty and right to existence with nuclear weapons, it will never hesitate to make a preemptive nuclear strike at them.”

Following the remarks, Time Magazine floated the idea of the United States making a preemptive strike on North Korea.

“Taking out North Korea’s two major nuclear sites with air strikes would be dangerous but probably not too difficult, U.S. officials say. The possibility of North Korean retaliation against Seoul, South Korea’s capital of 10 million and only 35 miles from North Korea, would be a complicating factor, they concede,” the magazine notes.

On Tuesday, North Korea put midrange missile capable of striking the United States on standby, according to the Pentagon. The standby status is a reaction to military exercises by the United States and South Korea. On Saturday, Pyongyang said it successfully conducted a test firing of a ballistic missile from a submarine.

In March, the Obama administration used an executive order to expand sanctions placed on North Korea. A State Department official characterized the order as “an important tool to escalate pressure as circumstances require.” It places restrictions on remittances sent home by North Korean workers in China and Russia.

During an interview with Charlie Rose, Obama said the United States “could, obviously, destroy North Korea with our arsenals. But aside from the humanitarian costs of that, they are right next door to our vital ally, Republic of Korea.”


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