Thae Yong Ho was serving as North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Nations in London before he and his family defected to South Korea last August. Photograph: (DNA)
A former North Korea diplomat said 'desperate' North leader Kim would not hesitate to attack US if there was a 'threat'
North Korea is close to developing nuclear weaponry and will use it at the first sign of threat, according to the most high-profile Pyongyang diplomat to have defected in the last two decades.
Thae Yong Ho, who defected from the regime last year, told NBC News' Lester Holt that the current dictator Kim Jong-Un would not hesitate to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon or an intercontinential ballistic missile (ICBM).
Thae said Kim was "desperate in maintaining his rule by relying on nuclear weapons and ICBM".
Although Thae was not directly involved with the nuclear weapon programme, he said North Korea had reached a "very significant level of nuclear development".
"Once he (Kim) sees that there is a kind of sign of a tank or an imminent threat from America, then he would use his nuclear weapons with ICBM," Thae said.
Thae was serving as North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Nations in London before he and his family defected to South Korea last August.
North Korea has claimed it has conducted five successful nuclear tests, twice in 2016 alone.
Some analysts reckon that North Korea has at least eight nuclear weapons, but the country has yet to successfully test-fire an ICBM capable of striking the United States.
But North Korea leader Kim had earlier this year said that they were ready to test-fire an ICBM "at any time, at any place".
Pyongyang has defied multiple UN sanctions aimed to curtail their nuclear programme. Since coming to power five years back, Kim has bolstered the alienated nation's nuclear programme and increased the number of test-fires of various rockets.
Thae, in the interview with the US broadcaster, said he believed the only way to rein in North Korea would be to eliminate its leader.
While US President Donald Trump has vowed to take strict action against North Korea, Pyongyang has continued to thumb its nose by test-firing rockets.
Recently, Trump asked for China's help in curbing North Korea, but declared that even if they didn't, Washington would "solve" the protracted issue by themselves.