North Korean Rocket Could Reach U S
by John J. Lumpkin
WASHINGTON (Feb. 12) - North Korea has an untested ballistic missile capable of reaching the western United States, intelligence officials said Wednesday.
The North Korean missile is a three-stage version of the Taepo Dong 2, Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said to reporters. It has not been flight-tested, Jacoby said, leaving some questions about the North Korea's capability to successfully launch the missile.
CIA Director George J. Tenet, who joined Jacoby in briefing the Senate Armed Services Committee, also acknowledged the North Koreans have the capability to reach the western United States with a long-range missile.
However, after their statements, U.S. intelligence officials said North Korea has demonstrated no new missile capabilities in the last year. The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Tenet's and Jacoby's statements were based on the same information that led U.S. intelligence to conclude in 2001 that North Korea was close to being able to flight-test a three-stage Taepo Dong 2.
Meanwhile, the U.N. nuclear agency declared North Korea in violation of international treaties, raising the stakes in the standoff by sending the dispute to the Security Council.
The move could lead to punishing sanctions which the North has said it would consider an act of war.
Russia and Cuba refused endorse the measure, saying the International Atomic Energy Agency's decision would detract from a flurry of diplomatic efforts aimed at easing the crisis.
Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said the IAEA would continue to press for a peaceful solution, but he said months of intransigence on the part of North Korea's communist regime had left the U.N. nuclear watchdog no choice.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer also sought to downplay the statements on the missiles, saying they were reflecting old intelligence. He said, ''This old news is why it's important to proceed with deployment of missile defense and also why the President is focused on multi-lateral diplomatic talks to deal with North Korea.''
An unclassified U.S. intelligence estimate, released by CIA officials in December 2001, said the three-stage Taepo Dong 2 missile was late in development and close to flight testing.
But North Korea has held to a voluntary moratorium on flight tests of its long-range missiles, although officials say Pyongyang may renew testing at any time.
The U.S. estimate said such a missile probably could carry a nuclear weapon-sized payload across the Pacific Ocean.
''Technology and time means regimes like North Korea will increasingly have the ability to strike at the United States,'' Fleischer said .
He said that is why President Bush supports building an anti-missile shield.
''We do have concerns ... about North Korea's missile development programs,'' Fleischer told reporters.
The revelation was certain to raise questions about Bush's priorities - and whether North Korea or Iraq pose a greater threat to the United States. Baghdad does not possess weapons that can strike America, officials have said.
''They are both important priorities,'' Fleischer said. ''The question is, what are the means best used to deal with each priority.''
He said diplomacy has failed to curb Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program for more than a decade, thus Bush made military action a front-and-center option. ''That's not the case with North Korea,'' Fleischer said, saying Bush believes diplomatic pressure can contain North Korea.
Tenet said North Korea probably has one or two nuclear weapons.
The 2001 U.S. government report said a three-stage Taepo Dong could deliver a several-hundred-pound payload from North Korea to targets about 9,300 miles distant - sufficient to strike all of North America.
A two-stage Taepo Dong 2, which would be easier to use successfully, may be able to reach Alaska or Hawaii, it said.
In 1998, the North Koreans attempted to put a satellite into orbit with the launch of a three-stage version of the earlier model of the Taepo Dong. It failed when the third stage did not ignite.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, appearing before the House International Relations Committee, said the United States is pressing China to use its leverage with North Korea to persuade it to end its nuclear program. China is the main supplier of foreign assistance and energy aid to North Korea.
''We are doing everything we can to persuade the Chinese that the problem in North Korea is not just a problem between North and the United States. It is between North Korea and the region and North Korea and the world,'' he said.
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