CIA Director Mike Pompeo said Thursday that North Korea is months away from perfecting its nuclear weapons capabilities.
"They are close enough now in their capabilities that from a U.S. policy perspective we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving" their objective of being able to strike the United States, Pompeo told a national security forum in Washington.
But he said there's a difference between having the ability to fire a single nuclear missile and the capability of producing large amounts of fissile material and developing an arsenal of such weapons.
Pompeo said intelligence on North Korea is imperfect, and "when you're now talking about months, our capacity to understand that at a detailed level is in some sense irrelevant," he said.
"We are at a time where the president has concluded that we need a global effort to ensure Kim Jong Un doesn't have that capacity," Pompeo told the forum, organized by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.
He said China has done more than expected to reduce trade with its wayward ally but can do more. Beijing has also communicated around the world it is intent on helping the U.S. resolve the issue.
"We all want to resolve this without" resorting to military activity, the CIA chief said, but added President Donald Trump is prepared to use force if necessary to ensure Kim "doesn't have the capacity to hold America at risk."
North Korea has accelerated its weapons tests. In July, it twice launched a long-range missile that could potentially reach the U.S. mainland. In September, it conducted its most powerful atomic explosion yet.
Dire threats traded by Trump and Kim have further stoked fears of war.
Former CIA Director John Brennan voiced concern late Wednesday about Trump's tweets and said the prospects of a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula "are greater than they have been in several decades."
"I don't think it's likely or probable, but if it's a 1-in-4 or 1-in-5 chance, that's too high," Brennan said at Fordham University in New York.