Americas

Trump denies seeking nearly tenfold increase in US nuclear arsenal

Trump denies seeking nearly tenfold increase in US nuclear arsenal
Activists of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) protest against the conflict between North Korea and the USA with masks of the North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un, left, and the US president Donald Trump, right, in front of the US embassy in Berlin, Germany. AP file photo
Published: 8:38 AM, October 12, 2017

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump on Wednesday denied a report from NBC News that he told his national security advisers in July he wanted to increase the country's nuclear arsenal by nearly tenfold, saying he argued for its modernisation.

NBC News said the president called for the increase after he was shown a chart indicating the stockpile of US nuclear weapons had slid from a high of 32,000 in the 1960s. Trump said he wanted to have that same number now, NBC reported.

Speaking to reporters at the White House during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Mr Trump said the report was not true.

"I never discussed increasing it. I want it in perfect shape. That was just fake news by NBC," he said. "We don't need an increase. But I want modernisation and I want total rehabilitation. It's got to be in tip-top shape."

The president's denial was buttressed by a statement from his defence chief.

"Recent reports that the president called for an increase in the US nuclear arsenal are absolutely false. This kind of erroneous reporting is irresponsible," Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said.

Although US presidents have modernised weapon stockpiles over the years, any meaningful addition to the nuclear arsenal would violate treaty agreements. The Federation of American Scientists says the United States currently has about 4,000 nuclear warheads earmarked for use in its military stockpile.

After the meeting in July, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to Trump as a "moron," according to NBC. US news reports have painted the relationship between Mr Trump and Mr Tillerson as tense.

The NBC report comes during a time of high tension between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and missile programs, and just ahead of an expected announcement from Mr Trump on whether to decertify the international deal on Iran's nuclear programme. REUTERS