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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

While North Korea's call for unification with the South could be interpreted as a step toward reducing tensions, Pyongyang hit several troubling nuclear milestones with unexpected speed in the past year. Tensions between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump also ramped up over tweets and statements in an almost dizzying back and forth.

Bottom line: The potential for miscalculation is high. But where exactly does North Korea's nuclear program stand amidst these risks, and where does it fall short? And what about the U.S. capability to defend itself?

The Trump factor
Assessing the threat
  • Is the U.S. ready for a North Korean nuclear attack? The short answer is, probably not. We're "falling behind in defensive" ability — Adm. James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, told Axios. More on U.S. preparations here.
  • The missile math — North Korea's maximum launch capacity vs. the number of U.S. interceptors — works right now, in theory. But it might not soon.
  • North Korea isn't ready to field a reliable ICBM to hit the U.S. — yet. And that's the key word. Go deeper on where the North's capabilities stand, and the milestones it has hit so far.
What North Korea wants
Where other world players fit in
  • China has skin in the game. What's at stake.
  • Russia and China have been accused of violating sanctions against North Korea. The reports.
Bottom line

North Korea has said it intends to have an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. mainland before it ever engages in diplomacy again. Until the regime has that capability nailed down, expect continued testing.

But it eventually will want to return to the negotiating table to get a reduction in sanctions and continued reduction of joint military drills in the region.

Go deeper

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to form team to solve consulate dispute

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) meet in Washington. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel are planning to form a joint team to hold discreet negotiations on the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: The consulate handled relations with the Palestinians for 25 years before being shut down by then President Donald Trump in 2019. Senior officials in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government see the consulate issue as a political hot potato that could destabilize their unwieldy coalition.

Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to Parkland school shooting

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the defense table during jury selection at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo: Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Nikolas Cruz on Wednesday pleaded guilty on all counts for carrying out the 2018 shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, including 14 students and three staff members.

Driving the news: Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty at a hearing on Wednesday to 17 murder counts and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for carrying out the deadly shooting.

3 hours ago - Health

White House unveils plan to "quickly" vaccinate kids ages 5-11

Charles Muro, 13, is inoculated at Hartford Healthcare's mass vaccination center at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Conn. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Wednesday released its plan to vaccinate children between the ages of five and 11, pending authorization from the Food and Drug Administration of the first COVID-19 shot for that age group.

The big picture: The White House said it has secured enough vaccine supply to equip more than 25,000 pediatric and primary care offices, hundreds of school and community health clinics, as well as tens of thousands of pharmacies, to administer the shots.