LONDON (AP) — A North Korean envoy says his country has developed nuclear missiles and is prepared to use them at any time.
North Korean Ambassador to Britain Hyun Hak Bong said in a recent interview with British broadcaster Sky News that his government would use the missiles in response to a nuclear attack by the United States.
Asked whether North Korea has the ability now to launch a nuclear missile, Hyun replied: "Any time. Any time. Yes."
"If the United States strike us, we should strike back," he said.
Asked if North Korea would only fire nuclear missiles in retaliation, Hyun replied: "We are a peace-loving people you know. We don't want war but we are not afraid of war. This is our policy of the government."
North Korea is thought to have a handful of crude nuclear bombs and has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006. But experts are divided on how far it has come in developing the technology needed to miniaturize warheads so they can be placed on missiles.
The spokesman for South Korea's Defense Ministry, Kim Min-seok, said Saturday that while North Korea might have advanced its technologies for miniaturizing nuclear warheads so they can be installed on missiles, Seoul does not believe they have succeeded yet.
Kim pointed out that the North has conducted only three nuclear tests so far and it's unclear how successful they were.
The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security recently estimated that North Korea currently has between 10 and 16 nuclear weapons, some based on plutonium, others on uranium. It concluded that North Korea already has plutonium-based weapons small enough to mount on medium-range and intercontinental-range missiles.
The United Nations has imposed sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.
Hyun's comments come as rival South Korea and the United States conduct annual springtime military drills that North Korea says are aimed at preparing to topple its government. Seoul and Washington say the exercises are purely defensive.
The U.S. stations about 28,500 soldiers in South Korea to deter possible aggression from North Korea.
Associated Press writer Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.