A top American intelligence official has warned that North Korea is on the path of developing the capability of carrying out a nuclear strike against the United States.
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart told lawmakers Tuesday on Capitol Hill that although "shortfalls remain," North Korea continues to learn from the missile and nuclear tests it has conducted in recent years.
"If left on its current trajectory, the regime will ultimately succeed in fielding a nuclear armed missile capable of threatening the United States homeland," Stewart said before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Stewart said it is "nearly impossible to predict" when North Korea will develop the capability to strike the U.S., but added the regime "is on a pathway where this capability is inevitable."
"North Korea is an increasingly grave national security threat to the United States because of its growing missile and nuclear capabilities, combined with the aggressive approach of its leader Kim Jong-un," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates told committee members.
Coates said North Korea's 2012 constitutional amendment declaring itself a nuclear power suggests the regime does not plan to negotiate "away" any nuclear weapons it may eventually develop.
South Korea fired warning shots Tuesday after an unidentified object flew south from its rival northern neighbor, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, further escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula. More than 90 shots were fired at the unidentified aircraft before it disappeared from radar screens.
The warning shots were fired two days after Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile that it said proved it was making progress in developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of striking U.S. targets.
Sunday's test, a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and sanctions, was condemned by a number of countries, including the U.S., South Korea and Japan.
At a U.N. disarmament conference on Tuesday, a North Korean diplomat said Pyongyang's missile tests were legitimate acts of self defense by a "fully-fledged nuclear power."