OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. — The top commander of U.S. nuclear forces said Thursday he assumes, suggesting a heightened U.S. concern that the North has advanced to a new level of nuclear firepower, even as it launched yet another ballistic missile over Japan into the Pacific Ocean.
Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of Strategic Command, told reporters that while he was not in a position to confirm it, he assumes from— which is a leap beyond the fission, or atomic, bombs North Korea has previously tested.
Just moments after Hyten spoke at his headquarters near Omaha, word spread that North Korea had launched a mid-range ballistic missile over Japan. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who was with Hyten at Strategic Command headquarters at the time of the launch, said afterward that it was a reckless act.
“It was fired over Japan and put millions of Japanese in the duck-and-cover,” he told a small group of reporters. “Landed out in the Pacific.”
Asked about a possible American military response, Mattis said, “I don’t want to talk on that yet.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement saying, “These continued provocations only deepen North Korea’s diplomatic and economic isolation.”
Tillerson was returning from London, where he met Thursday with representatives of Britain and France to discuss ways to increase pressure on Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian government.
“United Nations Security Council resolutions, including the most recent unanimous sanctions resolution, represent the floor, not the ceiling, of the actions we should take,” Tillerson said. “We call on all nations to take new measures against the Kim regime.”
Tillerson called on China and Russia to “indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own.”
Shortly after the Sept. 3 test, North Korea claimed they exploded a hydrogen bomb, and while U.S. officials have not contradicted them, they have not confirmed it, either. Administration officials had indicated they saw nothing to contradict the North’s claim. Hyten went further, saying the characteristics of the test made him think it was an H-bomb.
Hyten would not discuss the exact size of the explosion from the Sept. 3 test, but Mattis had said on Wednesday that it was in excess of 100 kilotons — far larger than any of the North’s five previous…