President Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast Tuesday that North Korea likely does not have the ability to arm a ballistic missile with nuclear warheads. He also compared the Stalinist regime’s recent belligerent rhetoric to a child’s temper tantrum.
NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie asked Obama to clarify whether Pyongyang–which has tested nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles before–could combine the two.
“Based on our current intelligence assessments we do not think that they have that capacity,” the president said. “But we have to make sure that we are dealing with every contingency out there. That’s why I repositioned missile defense systems: to guard against any miscalculation on their part.”
Asked whether North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un is unstable, Obama told NBC: “I’m not a psychiatrist. And I don’t know the leader of North Korea.”
But he described Pyonyang’s escalating rhetoric over the past six weeks as “provocative” and “unnecessary” and vowed not to reward it.
“You don’t get to bang your spoon on the table and somehow you get your way,” the president said. Still, the volatile standoff isn’t over, Obama said.
“All of us would anticipate that North Korea will probably make more provocative moves over the next several weeks,” he said. “But our hope is, is that we can contain it and that we can move into a different phase in which they try to work through diplomatically some of these issues.”
“This is the same kind of pattern that we saw his father engage in, and his grandfather before that," Obama said. “If they want to rejoin the community of nations, that path is available to them."
The interview was conducted Monday, shortly before the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon.