Mr Pompeo suggested that North Korea – which has a burgeoning nuclear programme but a faltering economy – may start selling its weapons to other countries.
“One of the risks of allowing the North Korean regime to continue to have this nuclear capability is this proliferation risk – that this technology they have developed and then figured out how to manufacture … would then be proliferated elsewhere in the world,” Mr Pompeo said during an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, according to Politico.
He added: “It doesn’t take too much imagination to understand that if they continue to have that nuclear weapons system, and if the Iranians make advances in theirs, that many other countries around the world will decide me too, that I want to have one of those things that that guy has.”
The CIA could not guarantee, Mr Pompeo added, that they could detect exchanges of nuclear intelligence in foreign countries.
North Korea's economy is struggling under the weight of international sanctions imposed by the UN Security Counsel, which target its imports of petroleum products. The US announced its own, new measures on Wednesday, sanctioning nine entities, 16 people and six ships accused of helping Pyongyang develop nuclear weapons.
Mr Pompeo said he believes North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is building his weapons arsenal for more than just defensive purposes. He suggested that Mr Kim could use his arsenal for “coercive” means, including the ultimate goal of reunifying the Korean peninsula under his rule.
President Donald Trump, the Director said, was intent on finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis. But he added that the administration is working on a "series of options" so that the President would have "the full sweep of possibilities”.
Mr Pompeo is not the first to warn that Pyongyang's expanding arsenal could cause international nuclear proliferation. Former US Secretary of Defense William Perry told Politico more than a year ago that the US was “sleepwalking” into a “new nuclear arms race”.
“I am not suggesting that this Cold War and this arms race is identical to the old one, but in many ways it is just as bad; just as dangerous," he said at the time.
Countries surrounding the North, such as South Korea and Japan, would likely be the first to seek armament, experts say. Conservative legislators in Seoul have already suggested that the US re-deploy its nuclear weapons to South Korea or allow them to develop their own, according to Reuters.
The US withdrew its nuclear weapons from South Korea in 1992, when the North and South both agreed to denuclearise. North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile development are in violation of this treaty.
Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries threatened by Iran are also potential customers for North Korean weapons, experts told Politico.
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