North Korea, Iran Emerging as Threats

By Sara Wood

RIA Novosti Photo

After terrorism, the ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction is the second major threat to the safety of the U.S. and its Allies, and Iran and North Korea are both emerging as potential dangers in that area, a top U.S. official told a Senate committee in Washington.

"The time when a few states had monopolies over weapons of mass destruction is fading," said John D. Negroponte, director of national intelligence, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats to U.S. national security.

"Technologies, often dual-use, move freely in our globalized economy, as do the scientific personnel who design them," he said. "The potential dangers of weapons of mass destruction proliferation are so grave that we must do everything possible to discover and disrupt it."

Many nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency share concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, Negroponte said. Iran conducted a clandestine uranium-enrichment program for nearly two decades in violation of an IAEA safeguards agreement, he said, and despite its claims to the contrary, officials think that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Iran probably does not yet have a nuclear weapon or the materials to make one, but the danger that it will acquire the materials is a reason for immediate concern, he said.

"The integration of nuclear weapons into Iran’s ballistic systems would be destabilizing beyond the Middle East," he said.

Officials believe that Iran maintains offensive chemical and biological weapons capabilities in various stages of development, Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said at the hearing. Also, Iran is developing ballistic missiles with the capability to strike Tel Aviv, Israel, and even central Europe, he said.

Yongbyon nuclear facility in North Korea.

DigitalGlobe Photo

North Korea also threatens international security, but unlike Iran, North Korea claims to already have nuclear weapons, Negroponte said. U.S. officials believe this claim is true, because North Korean leaders see nuclear weapons as the best way to deter superior forces and to ensure regime security, and as a lever for economic gain and a source of prestige, he said.

Maples said that because of strong security, national and economic motivations for possessing nuclear weapons, officials are uncertain whether the North Korean government can be persuaded to fully relinquish its program.

As China upgrades its military and gains political influence, it too is emerging as a threat to U.S. national security, Negroponte said. China has seen consistently high economic growth rates, which have fueled a military modernization program and increased the country’s force capabilities, he said.

China has been reaching out to its neighboring countries to make economic and political connections, Negroponte said. Also, the Chinese military is acquiring modern weapons and hardware, improving doctrine, reforming training, and making improvements in critical support functions, he said.

However, despite the improvements, China still faces a challenge in keeping unemployment and rural discontent down and maintaining increasing living standards, Negroponte said. To do this, China must solve difficult economic and legal problems, improve the education system, reduce environmental degradation, and improve governance by combating corruption, he said.

"Indeed, China’s rise may be hobbled by systemic problems and the Communist Party’s resistance to the demands for political participation that economic growth generates," he said. "Beijing’s determination to repress real or perceived challenges – from dispossessed peasants to religious organizations – could lead to serious instability at home and less effective policies abroad."

Other issues will continue to affect national security, such as improving technology and weakly governed states throughout the world, Maples said, but the government remains vigilant to protecting the U.S. homeland, allies and interests abroad.

"Our nation is engaged in a long war against terrorism and violent extremism, and we are faced with a multitude of threats that can affect our national security," he said. "The defense intelligence professionals will continue to provide the necessary information critical to our warfighters, defense planners and national security policy makers."

Related Articles:

** Seoul Keeps Quiet on North Korean Missile Launch Reports
Iran Threatens to Step Up Nuclear Activities if UN Takes Action Against It
** Iranian President Says UN Nuclear Watchdog Losing Credibility

Seoul Keeps Quiet on North Korean
Missile Launch Reports

By Kurt Achin

Thunderbolt II aircraft parks after flying a training mission at Osan Air Base, South Korea. South Korean media quote unnamed officials as saying North Korea launched two short-range missiles Wednesday morning local time near its border with China. It is not clear if the launch was a test or a mistake.

Photo by Jeffrey Allen / DoD Photo

SEOUL, Korea, March 9, 2006 (VOA) — South Korea is not commenting on North Korea’s reported launch of two short-range missiles this week. South Korean media reports cite anonymous officials who confirm the launch took place, but say it was part of ordinary drills.

The South Korean government kept quiet Thursday about media reports of a North Korean missile launch this week.

South Korean media quote unnamed officials as saying North Korea launched two short-range missiles Wednesday morning local time near its border with China. It is not clear if the launch was a test or a mistake.

South Korea – which has a policy of engaging the communist North as a way to better relations – is hesitant to publicly criticize Pyongyang.

But the reports drew a quick response from Washington. U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the reported launches are a source of concern.

"North Korea’s missile program and activities are a threat, not only to the region, but the international community at large," he said. "We are working with our friends and allies in the region on deployment of active missile defenses."

North Korea test-fired a long-range missile over Japan in 1998 – alarming the international community. But Pyongyang has not conducted any medium- and long-range missile tests since. North Korea is also believed to be one of the world’s largest exporters of missile technology.

In U.S. Senate testimony this week, the Commander of U.S. Forces in Korea, General Burwell Bell, warned North Korea has 200 mid-range missiles capable of reaching Japan. He said Pyongyang might have long-range missiles capable of reaching the continental U.S. within the decade.

The timing or purpose of this week’s reported North Korean launch is not clear.

But Kim Tae-woo – an analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for Defense Analyses – says it was probably just part of regularly scheduled short-range missile drills.

"Even North Koreans themselves will believe that [this] is a minor thing and nobody will think it serious," said Kim. "If North Korea tested a large-size [long range] missile, that could be interpreted differently."

Kim says he and his colleagues are more concerned about newly emerging reports that North Korea may be selling long-range missile technology to Iran – which is also embroiled in a dispute with the international community over its nuclear programs.

"That development could be really serious," added Kim. "That could prompt a response from the U.S. If that is true, it is a really serious development."

This week’s reported launch comes within 24 hours of Pyongyang’s latest announcement that it will not return to multinational talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs. Three years of negotiations have not produced any progress on the issue.

North Korea says it has nuclear weapons, but has never conducted a nuclear test. U.S. intelligence officials have expressed doubt Pyongyang has the technology to mount a nuclear device on a missile and fire it accurately. However, they fear North Korea may export nuclear and missile materials and technology to nations or groups hostile to the United States.

Iran Threatens to Step Up Nuclear
Activities if UN Takes Action Against It

(VOA) Iran has warned it will resume full scale uranium enrichment if the U.N. Security Council takes action over its nuclear program.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, spoke Sunday in Vienna, telling reporters that nuclear research and development is in Iran’s national interest.

The International Atomic Energy Agency holds discussions on Iran Monday in Vienna, with a report from IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei. The agency’s board of governors is also expected to discuss its decision last month to report Iran to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

In Washington, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, told an American pro-Israeli lobbying group that Iran could face "painful consequences" if it continues "down the path of international isolation."

On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Security Council is not likely to immediately impose sanctions on Iran. But she said the council will have to have a serious discussion about what the next steps will be.

President Bush says the world will be in danger if Iran acquires nuclear weapons. Washington accuses Tehran of secret efforts to develop such weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for generating electricity. It resumed enriching uranium this year despite Western protests.

Iran and Russia have been discussing a Russian proposal that would have Iranian nuclear fuel enriched in Russia. That proposal is designed to ease concerns that Iran could use enriched fuel to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says those talks will end if it is referred to the Security Council.

Iranian President Says UN Nuclear
Watchdog Losing Credibility

By Heda Bayron

HONG KONG (VOA) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on a visit to Malaysia Friday March 3,, accused the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog of being a tool of world powers. The president’s attack on the credibility of the International Atomic Energy Agency comes ahead of crucial meetings in Vienna on Iran’s controversial nuclear programs.

Just three days before the International Atomic Energy Agency board in Vienna is set to decide whether to bring the issue of Iran’s nuclear activities to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions, Iran’s President Ahmadinejad Friday blasted the I.A.E.A. during a visit to Kuala Lumpur.

He says international organizations like the U.N. atomic agency are being politically influenced by world powers from taking "fair" and "legally sound" decisions, especially when it comes to the Islamic republic.

The United States, the European Union and the IAEA. want Iran to cooperate with U.N. inspections and to suspend uranium enrichment, a key process in developing nuclear weapons.

But Iran has insisted it will not give up enrichment and what it says is its right to have a peaceful nuclear program.

In a report this week, IAEA. chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran had failed to answer key questions about its nuclear program after three years of U.N. investigations. He said the U.N. is not able to determine what Tehran’s intentions are in terms of atomic weapons.

In order to avert a deepening crisis, Russia has offered to enrich uranium for Iran’s energy reactors, thus lessening the chance Tehran could use spent fuel for nuclear weapons.

European Union leaders from Britain, France and Germany have been discussing the compromise plan with Iran’s top negotiator – but there has been no agreement.

President Bush Thursday stressed that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. He made the comment in New Delhi where he had just concluded an historic deal to share civilian nuclear technology and fuel with India. The agreement comes despite criticism that India has not signed the global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran’s president and foreign minister, who have been traveling to garner support for their nation’s position, say this is an example of big power discrimination against the Islamic republic.

Iran signed the N.P.T. in 1970, and Mr. Ahmadinejad says it gives member states the right to have access to peaceful nuclear technology.