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Report: North Korea has miniaturized a nuclear warhead

By Zachary Cohen, CNN

(CNN) -- North Korea has taken a major step forward in realizing its goal of becoming a nuclear power, according to a Washington Post report on a confidential US intelligence assessment that concludes Pyongyang has developed a nuclear warhead capable of fitting inside its missiles.

The Washington Post first reported details of the assessment on Tuesday just hours after North Korea threatened 'physical action' in response to punitive sanctions unanimously passed by the United Nations Security Council over the weekend.

"The IC [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles," the assessment states, in an excerpt read to The Washington Post.

CNN has not independently verified the report.

The Washington Post story says that it is not known if North Korea has successfully tested the smaller design. The analysis is from the Defense Intelligence Agency and it is not clear that the assessment is shared across the intelligence community.

CNN has previously reported that US intelligence estimates Pyongyang may have the capacity to deliver a nuclear weapon to the US mainland by early next year and its missile program showed significant progress during two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July.

"Assuming everything is true, including that intelligence assessment both existing and everything being accurate, there are still important unknowns," Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, noting that questions still linger about whether a possible North Korean warhead could survive re-entry from the earth's upper atmosphere.

However, Zeldin also said that reporting of the development "increases the urgency of the time sensitivity" of efforts being taken by the US and its international partners to address North Korea's missile and nuclear programs diplomatically.

Earlier on Tuesday, President Donald Trump was quick to highlight his administration's success in leading the UN Security Council to unanimously pass sanctions on North Korea.

"After many years of failure,countries are coming together to finally address the dangers posed by North Korea. We must be tough & decisive!" Trump wrote in a tweet on Tuesday morning.

But reports that North Korea has taken another big step forward in realizing its nuclear ambitions will likely only escalate an already tense situation after the latest chapter of rhetorical chest-thumping.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called newly approved sanctions on North Korea "a gut punch" and warned of possible military action should the regime continue its aggressive actions.

Those military options include launching a "preventative war" against North Korea, according to White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

"If they had nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States, it's intolerable from the President's perspective. Of course, we have to provide all options to do that, and that includes a military option," McMaster said in an interview with MSNBC on Saturday.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said Pyongyang "will, under no circumstances, put the nukes and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table," and would "teach the US a severe lesson" if it used military force against North Korea.

North Korea was estimated to have between 13 and 30 nuclear weapons at the end of 2016, according to the Institute for Science and International Security -- noting that North Korea keeps secret the number of nuclear weapons that it has built, and there is little, if any, reliable public information about this value.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2017 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

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