WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal, he told a meeting of his national security advisers in July, NBC News reported on Wednesday, but the president denied the report, saying he wanted the repository modernized.
Trump’s reported comments come as tensions remained high with North Korea and as Trump is expected to make an announcement on whether to decertify the international deal surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.
The president spoke on July after he was shown a chart indicating the stockpile of U.S. 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.
The United States currently has about 4,000 nuclear warheads earmarked for use in its military stockpile, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
On Wednesday, Trump told journalists that he had not said he wanted a tenfold increase in nuclear weapons, but instead pushing for modernization of the stockpile.
“We don’t need an increase. But I want modernization and I want total rehabilitation. It’s got to be in tip-top shape,” said Trump.
In a post on Twitter on Wednesday, the president said, “Fake @NBCNews made up a story that I wanted a ‘tenfold’ increase in our U.S. nuclear arsenal. Pure fiction, made up to demean. NBC = CNN!”
Trump said in an interview with Reuters in February that he wanted to ensure that the U.S. nuclear arsenal was at the “top of the pack.”
Although U.S. presidents have modernized weapons stockpiles over the years, adding to the nuclear arsenal or building a prohibited type of weapon would be a violation of treaty agreements, according to NBC.
After the meeting, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to Trump as a “moron,” according to NBC. U.S. news reports have painted the relationship between Trump and Tillerson as tense.
MSNBC reported in 2016 that as a candidate, Trump asked a foreign policy adviser three times in a one-hour meeting why the United States could not deploy its nuclear weapons.
Reporting by Roberta Rampton, Makini Brice and Susan Heavey; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe