The map is fuzzy, but it appears to show four arrows crossing the Pacific Ocean from the Korean peninsula, their points ending in the vicinities of the East Coast, the mountain states (or possibly Texas), the West Coast and Hawaii.
South Korean media say the heading of the map reads, in Korean, “The Strategic Forces’ Plan to Strike the U.S. Mainland.”
The photo, one of several released by Pyongyang’s KCNA news agency, purports to show Kim holding an emergency meeting of top military brass in the early hours of Friday morning.
A KCNA bulletin said Kim had convened “an urgent operation meeting” in response to the U.S. decision to fly two B-2s stealth bombers over South Korea as part of a military drill, and that he had ordered strategic rocket forces “to be on standby to fire so that they may strike any time the U.S. mainland, its military bases in the operational theaters in the Pacific, including Hawaii and Guam, and those in south Korea.”
In a subsequent bulletin at the weekend, Pyongyang said it had now entered into a “state of war” with South Korea, and threatened to “immediately punish any slightest provocation hurting its dignity and sovereignty with resolute and merciless physical actions without any prior notice.”
If the map in the photo is meant to show Kim’s desired U.S. targets, among the possibilities could be the Vandenberg Air Force Base northwest of Los Angeles, one of two locations of ground-based ballistic missile interceptors (the other is Fort Greely, Alaska); and the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, home to the U.S. Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which oversees aerospace warning and control.
Also visible in another of the photos released by KCNA was a map of Seoul, the South Korean capital and a city of more than 10 million people, just 30 miles south of the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas.
Kim’s behavior and rhetoric has become more threatening in recent weeks, but Western experts do not generally believe North Korea currently has the ability to threaten the continental United States with missiles.
Pyongyang last December launched a three-stage “Unha-3” carrier rocket carrying an observation satellite, essentially the same as the Taepondong-2 long-range missile that it has under development.
The Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. said then that a rocket like the Unha-3 could “in theory” carry a nuclear payload up to 10,000 kilometers, or some 6,200 miles.
“North Korea has already demonstrated capabilities that threaten the United States and the security environment in East Asia,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress last month, delivering the intelligence community’s annual report on threats facing the U.S.
The report noted that North Korea had since last spring displayed what appeared to be a road-mobile inter-continental ballistic missile, “and in December 2012 placed a satellite in orbit using its Taepodong-2 launch vehicle.”
“These programs demonstrate North Korea’s commitment to develop long-range missile technology that could pose a direct threat to the United States, and its efforts to produce and market ballistic missiles raise broader regional and global security concern.”
The report said the intelligence agencies had long assessed that Pyongyang regards its nuclear capabilities as tools for “deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy.”
But, it added, “Although we assess with low confidence that the North would only attempt to use nuclear weapons against U.S. forces or allies to preserve the Kim regime, we do not know what would constitute, from the North’s perspective, crossing that threshold.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Sunday that North Korea’s missile threats were not empty.
“I wouldn’t be that concerned about them hitting the mainland U.S. right now, even any U.S. territory. I think the real threat is to what North Korea might be boxing itself into,” he said on ABC News’ “This Week.”
“Kim Jong-un is trying to establish himself. He’s trying to be the tough guy. He is 28, 29 years old, and he keeps going further and further out, and I don’t know if he can get himself back in,” King added.
“So my concern would be that he may feel to save face he has to launch some sort of attack on South Korea, or some base in the Pacific.”
In response to a question, King said he could see no point in offering to hold direct talks with North Korea, and likened its regime to “an organized crime family.”
“I think it would marginalize our allies in Asia, certainly in South Korea, and it would serve no constructive purpose whatsoever.”