WASHINGTON - North Korea is likely just months away from being capable of striking the United States with a nuclear missile, according to two top U.S. officials.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo told a forum in Washington on Thursday he is "deeply worried" about the advancing threat from North Korea and the possibility it could spark a nuclear arms race across East Asia.
"We ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving that objective," Pompeo said when asked about Pyongyang's pursuit of missile technology that could launch a warhead to targets in the U.S.
"They are so far along in that it's now a matter of thinking about how do you stop the final step?" he added.
McMaster: We're running out of time
U.S. National Security Adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster said later on Thursday that Washington was racing to resolve the situation, short of using military force.
"We're not out of time but we're running out of time," McMaster said, speaking at the same event. "Accept and deter is unacceptable."
The comments by Pompeo and McMaster come as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have been steadily rising following Pyongyang's latest nuclear test last month, it's sixth overall, and repeated tests of what intelligence officials have assessed to be both intermediate and long range ballistic missiles.
But despite warning that North Korea is just months away from being able to target the U.S., the CIA's Pompeo cautioned there are still questions about just how "robust" the North Korea nuclear threat has become, and whether Pyongyang will be able to deliver multiple nuclear warheads to nuclear targets.
"There's always a risk. Intelligence is imperfect," Pompeo said, adding there is evidence Pyongyang may be getting help from Iran, citing "deep conventional weapons ties as between the two countries."
He also warned that each North Korean test makes an arms race ever more likely.
"You watch as North Korea grows ever closer to having its capability perfected, you can imagine others in the region also thinking that they well may need that capability," he said.
Putin suggests force won't work against North Korea
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against the use of force to eliminate the North Korean nuclear threat, suggesting it would not work.
"Talks about a preventative, disarming strike — and we hear both hints and open threats — this is very dangerous," Putin said during a speaking engagement in Sochi.
"Who knows what and where is hidden in North Korea? And whether all of it can be destroyed with one strike, I doubt it," he said. "I'm almost sure it is impossible."
North Korean officials have also repeatedly warned the U.S. against any provocations.
Pyongyang's deputy envoy to the United Nations, Kim In Ryong, warned Monday that war could break out at any moment.
Other North Korean officials have accused the U.S. of making preparations for war, citing the presence of the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, conducting exercises to the east of the Korean Peninsula.