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N. Korea's nuke weapons, ballistic missiles pose serious threat to U.S.: Clapper

WASHINGTON -- North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles pose a serious threat to the United States, the chief U.S. intelligence official said Wednesday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son Jong-un attend a ceremony marking the 65th founding anniversary of the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang on Oct. 10. (Yonhap News)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son Jong-un attend a ceremony marking the 65th founding anniversary of the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang on Oct. 10. (Yonhap News)

"North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs also pose a serious threat, both regionally and beyond," National Intelligence Director James Clapper told a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing. "Pyongyang has signaled a willingness to re-engage in dialogue, but it also craves international recognition as a nuclear weapons power, and it has shown troubling willingness to sell nuclear technologies."

The chief spy's remarks are in line with U.S. military leaders. 

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last month that North Korea's missiles and nuclear weapons will pose a threat to the U.S. within five years. The defense chief urged North Korea to impose a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing to help revive stalled six-party nuclear talks.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said last month that "unless North Korea is deterred, that sometime in the next, I'm not sure but, five to 10 years, the provocations ... will continue at a much higher threat level, which could include a nuclear-capable ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile)." 

The multilateral nuclear talks have been deadlocked for more than two years over the North's nuclear and missile tests and other provocations. 

North Korea also revealed in November a uranium enrichment plant that could serve as a second way of building nuclear bombs in addition to its existing plutonium program, despite Pyongyang's claims it is producing fuel for power generation.

Clapper said in a report presented to the hearing that the North apparently has more uranium enrichment facilities than the one in its nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of its capital Pyongyang, that was revealed last year. 

"Based on the scale of the facility and the progress the DPRK has made in construction, it is likely that North Korea has been pursuing enrichment for an extended period of time," the chief spy said. "If so, there is clear prospect that DPRK has built other uranium enrichment-related facilities in its territory, including likely R&D and centrifuge fabrication facilities and other enrichment facilities." DPRK is North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. 

Earlier in the day in Tokyo, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and his Japanese counterpart Seiji Maehara called on the U.N. Security Council to take up the uranium issue for possible additional sanctions on the North, which is already under international sanctions for its second nuclear test and a rocket launch in 2009.

China, North Korea's staunchest communist ally, opposes bringing the uranium issue to the council, citing an adverse impact on the revival of the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

Beijing wants the talks to reopen as soon as possible without any conditions attached, while Seoul and Washington demand Pyongyang first apologize for the shelling of a South Korean front-line island and the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 50 people last year.

In an apparent bid to pave the way for the resumption of the six-party negotiations, North Korea recently proposed to revive high-level inter-Korean military dialogue, but walked out of preparatory talks last week citing South Korea's demand for an apology for the provocations.

Philip Crowley, assistant secretary of state for public affairs, urged the North to show sincerity in its denuclearization commitment and address South Korea's grievances before any resumption of the six-party talks.

"We have made clear there are things that North Korea has to do to create the right kind of environment where we think any kind of dialogue would be useful," Crowley told reporters. "North Korea has to demonstrate to the United States and others that it is serious about following through on its commitments. Should they demonstrate that seriousness of purpose, then we'll see what might be appropriate."   

A deal signed by the six nations in 2005 calls for the North's nuclear dismantlement in return for massive economic aid and diplomatic and political benefits. 

South Korea severed almost all economic ties with the North after the sinking of the Cheonan, which was blamed on North Korea.

Pyongyang denies involvement in the Cheonan's sinking and insists the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island was prompted by the South's provocations on the western sea border.

The North's recent provocations are widely believed to be linked to the ailing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's plans to transfer power to his third and youngest son, Jong-un, in an unprecedented third-generation hereditary power transition.

The 28-year-old heir apparent, who like his father lacks a proper military background, is believed to be trying to rally support from the military, the only power base in the impoverished but nuclear-armed communist state.

North Korea detonated nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, and conducted long-range missile tests three times - in 1998, 2006 and 2009 - which were seen as a partial success.

"Despite the most recent launch's failure in its stated mission of orbiting a small communications satellite, it successfully tested many technologies associated with an ICBM," Clapper said.

"Although both Taepodong-2 launches ended in failure, the 2009 flight demonstrated a more complete performance than the July 2006 launch." 

Pyongyang is believed to have at least several nuclear weapons, with some experts saying it may have already developed nuclear warheads small enough to be mounted on ballistic missiles with the help of China or Pakistan.

Clapper, however, said that North Korea will not likely use its nuclear weapons against the U.S. unless the North is attacked. 

"We judge that North Korea would consider using nuclear weapons only under certain narrow circumstances," he said. "Pyongyang probably would not attempt to use nuclear weapons against U.S. forces or territory unless it perceived its regime to be on the verge of military defeat and risked an irreversible loss of control."

(Yonhap News)


<관련기사>

"북한 핵.미사일 미국에 직접적 위협

(워싱턴=연합뉴스) 엘런 타우셔 미국 국무부 비확산 담당 차관은 16일 북한의 핵과 미사일 개발은 미국에 직접적인 위협을 주고 있다고 밝혔다.

타우셔 차관은 이날 워싱턴D.C.에서 개최된 '제3회 핵 억지 서밋' 행사에 참석, 기조연설을 통해 "만일 북한이 역내 안정과 비핵화를 위해 적절한 진정성과  진지함을 보여준다면 우리는 6자회담 재개에 열린 자세를 갖겠지만, 우리는 미국에 직접적인 위협이 되는 핵과 미사일 개발에 대응하기 위한 적절한 조치를 취해 나갈  것"이라고 말했다.

타우셔 차관은 지난 해 핵정상회의 개최, 핵태세검토(NPR)보고서 발간, 유엔을 통해 핵무기비확산조약(NPT) 체제 강화를 위한 노력 등을 소개한 뒤 이런 목표 달성에도 불구하고 이란과 북한은 중대한 도전과제로 남아있다고 지적했다.

타우셔 차관은 "북한은 전 세계적인 비확산 체제를 떠받치고 있는 조약과 제도를 훼손하는 행동을 계속하고 있다"면서 "북한은 낡은 행동 패턴을 되풀이하고 있다"고 말했다.

또 타우셔 차관은 이란 핵문제와 관련, "이란은 자신들의 핵프로그램이 평화적인 것이라는 확신을 국제사회에 심어주지 못하고 있다"며 "미국은 이란의 책임을  회피할 목적으로만 이용될 회담이나 공허한 외교로 이 문제를 해결할 뜻은 없다"고 강조했다.

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