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NKorea may have ability to send nuke to Japan, SKorea

By Matthew Pennington

Associated Press


WASHINGTON >> North Korea is widely recognized as being years away from perfecting the technology to back up its bold threats of a pre-emptive strike on America. But some nuclear experts say it might have the know-how to fire a nuclear-tipped missile at South Korea and Japan, which host U.S. military bases.

No one can tell with any certainty how much technological progress North Korea has made, aside from perhaps a few people close to its secretive leadership.

If true, it is unlikely the North would launch such an attack because the retaliation would be devastating.

The North's third nuclear test on Feb. 12, which prompted the toughest U.N. Security Council penalties yet, is presumed to have advanced its ability to miniaturize a nuclear device.

Experts say it's easier to design a nuclear warhead that works on a shorter-range missile than one for an intercontinental missile that could target the U.S.

The assessment of David Albright at the Institute for Science and International Security think-tank is that North Korea has the capability to mount a warhead on its Nodong missile, which has a range of 800 miles (1,280 kilometers) and could hit in South Korea and most of Japan.

He said in his analysis, published after the latest nuclear test, that it is an uncertain estimate, and the warhead's reliability remains unclear.

Albright contends that the experience of Pakistan could serve as precedent.

Pakistan bought the Nodong from North Korea after its first flight test in 1993, then adapted and produced it for its own use. Pakistan, which conducted its first nuclear test in 1998, is said to have taken less than 10 years to miniaturize a warhead before that test, Albright said.

North Korea also obtained technology from the trafficking network of A.Q. Khan, a disgraced pioneer of Pakistan's nuclear program, acquiring centrifuges for enriching uranium. According to the Congressional Research Service, Khan may also have supplied a Chinese-origin nuclear weapon design he provided to Libya and Iran, which could have helped the North in developing a warhead for a ballistic missile.

But Siegfried Hecker at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, who has visited North Korea seven times and been granted unusual access to its nuclear facilities, is skeptical the North has advanced that far in miniaturization of a nuclear device.

"Nobody outside of a small elite in North Korea knows — and even they don't know for sure," he said in an emailed response to questions from The Associated Press. "I agree that we cannot rule it out for one of their shorter-range missiles, but we simply don't know."

"Thanks to A.Q. Khan, they almost certainly have designs for such a device that could fit on some of their short- or medium-range missiles," said Hecker, who last visited the North in November 2010. "But it is a long way from having a design and having confidence that you can put a warhead on a missile and have it survive the thermal and mechanical stresses during launch and along its entire trajectory."

The differing opinions underscore a fundamental problem in assessing a country as isolated as North Korea, particularly its weapons programs: solid proof is very hard to come by.

For example, the international community remains largely in the dark about the latest underground nuclear test.

Although it caused a magnitude 5.1 tremor, no gases escaped and experts say there was no way to evaluate whether a plutonium or uranium device was detonated. That information would help reveal whether North Korea has managed to produce highly enriched uranium, giving it a new source of fissile material, and help determine the type and sophistication of the North's warhead design.

The guessing game about the North's nuclear weapons program dates back decades.

Albright says that in the early 1990s, the CIA estimated that North Korea had a "first-generation" design for a plutonium device that was likely to be deployed on the Nodong missile — although it's not clear what information that estimate was based on.

"Given that 20 years has passed since the deployment of the Nodong, an assessment that North Korea successfully developed a warhead able to be delivered by that missile is reasonable," Albright wrote.

According to Nick Hansen, a retired intelligence expert who closely monitors developments in the North's weapons programs, the Nodong missile was first flight-tested in 1993. Pakistan claims to have re-engineered the missile and successfully tested it, although doubts apparently persist about its reliability.

Whether North Korea has also figured out how to wed the missile with a nuclear warhead has major ramifications not just for South Korea and Japan, but for the U.S. itself, which counts those nations as its principal allies in Asia and retains 80,000 troops in the two countries.

U.S. intelligence appears to have vacillated in its assessments of North Korea's capabilities.

In April 2005, Lowell Jacoby, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that North Korea had the capability to arm a missile with a nuclear device. Pentagon officials, however, later backtracked.

According to the Congressional Research Service, a report from the same intelligence agency to Congress in August 2007 said that "North Korea has short and medium-range missiles that could be fitted with nuclear weapons, but we do not know whether it has in fact done so."

In an interview Friday in Germany, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. does not know whether North Korea has "weaponized" its nuclear capability.

Still, Washington is taking North Korea's nuclear threats seriously.

The bellicose rhetoric follows not just the nuclear test in February, but the launch in December of a long-range North Korean rocket that could potentially hit the continental U.S.

According to South Korean officials, North Korea has moved at least one missile with "considerable range" to its east coast — possibly the untested Musudan missile, believed to have a range of 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometers).

This past week, the U.S. said two of the Navy's missile-defense ships were positioned closer to the Korean peninsula, and a land-based system is being deployed for the Pacific territory of Guam. The Pentagon last month announced longer-term plans to beef up its U.S.-based missile defenses.

South Korea is separated from North Korea and its huge standing army by a heavily militarized frontier, and the countries remain in an official state of war, as the Korean War ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.

Even without nuclear arms, the North positions enough artillery within range of Seoul to devastate large parts of the capital before the much-better-equipped U.S. and South Korea could fully respond.

Japan has been starkly aware of the threat since North Korea's 1998 test of the medium-range Taepodong missile that overflew its territory.

In the latest standoff, much of the international attention has been on the North's potential threat to the U.S., a more distant prospect than its capabilities to strike its own neighbors. Experts say the North could hit South Korea with chemical weapons, and might also be able to use a Scud missile to carry a nuclear warhead.

Darryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, acknowledges the North might be able to put a warhead on a Nodong missile, but he sees it as unlikely. He says the North's nuclear threats are less worthy of attention than the prospects of a miscalculation leading to a conventional war.

"North Korea understands that a serious attack on South Korea or other U.S. interests is going to be met with overwhelming force," he said. "It would be near suicidal for the regime."


Associated Press writers Foster Klug in Seoul, South Korea, and Robert Burns in Stuttgart, Germany, contributed to this report.

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pcman wrote:
If North Korea is going to be successful in an attack on South Korea, they will have to strike early before the US and South Korea have all of their offensive forces in place prior to renewal of hostilities. Otherwise, after shooting off their long range artillery and rockets from hardened sites near the DMZ, the North Koreans can only then kiss their sweet butts goodbye. .
on April 6,2013 | 03:04PM
localguy wrote:
Uhhh, US and Korea already have all their defense forces trained and ready to go. Exactly why the two month exercise is going on now. About 28k USA military and about 700k south Korean. Korea can also call up their reserves while the USA can send the 82nd Airborne Division there in hours. US also has combat equipment stored in environmentally controlled cargo ships in Diego Garcia, ready to go when called. Kimmy boy is well aware if he crosses a line by killing innocent civilians, he will be hit hard, very hard. In a direct fight, he would be targeted for removal, his military machine taken out.
on April 6,2013 | 04:29PM
el_burro_sabio wrote:
They aren't attacking anyone. Just ignore them.
on April 6,2013 | 03:16PM
AmbienDaze wrote:
yikes! you mean like allie, hon? giggle.
on April 6,2013 | 03:54PM
OldDiver wrote:
Let's be clear about who David Albright really is.....According to Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector in Iraq.......I have no objection to an academically based think tank capable of producing sound analysis about the myriad nuclear-based threats the world faces today. But David Albright has a track record of making half-baked analyses derived from questionable sources seem mainstream. He breathes false legitimacy into these factually challenged stories by cloaking himself in a résumé which is disingenuous in the extreme. Eventually, one must begin to question the motives of Albright and ISIS. No self-respecting think tank would allow itself to be used in such an egregious manner. The fact that ISIS is a creation of Albright himself, and as such operates as a mirror image of its founder and president, only underscores the concerns raised when an individual lacking in any demonstrable foundation of expertise has installed himself into the mainstream media in a manner that corrupts the public discourse and debate by propagating factually incorrect, illogical and misleading information.
on April 6,2013 | 03:33PM
iwanaknow wrote:
I believe this hubba hubba will only make the USA throw more money we don't have at emergency re-enforcements.
on April 6,2013 | 04:35PM
jussayin wrote:
Yup. Good excuse to increase the defense budget. Isn't it wonderful for other countries to have US protect them? 6 Americans died in Afghanistan attacks. Sucks.
on April 6,2013 | 06:55PM
false wrote:
The war between the Koreas is still on.
on April 6,2013 | 08:38PM
false wrote:
Even North Vietnam and South Vietnam have reconciled already. A state of war still exists between the two Koreas, since 1953.
on April 6,2013 | 08:41PM
false wrote:
Japan makes the finest quality automobiles and electronic devices in the world. Korea just copies Japan.
on April 6,2013 | 08:42PM
false wrote:
However, it has been said that Korea (South mostly) is a sister country to Japan. Their languages are closely tied together.
on April 6,2013 | 08:43PM
false wrote:
Therefore, despite of the need to know is not great enough, I hope President Obama would provide enough information to North Korea especially, that a totally absurd World War III need not be started because of a misunderstanding of nuclear capability.
on April 6,2013 | 08:46PM
hanalei395 wrote:
That's actually Vietnam and the U.S. have reconciled. To the northern Vietnamese, Vietnam is one country, and there was no other country called a "South Vietnam".
on April 7,2013 | 07:03AM
Thinksmart wrote:
If Kim Jong-un is doing all this blustering and threatening to boost his image with his own people, why not provide him with a segment of the 2012 movie Red Dawn showing North Koreans invading an American town? He can show that clip on North Korean state-run media and look like a big shot for his people without any actual missile launch or combat.
on April 7,2013 | 01:28AM
Holomua wrote:
NoDong missile huh? They don't have the balls to use it.
on April 7,2013 | 07:09AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Don't have to be too accurate for an EMP to be effective.
on April 7,2013 | 08:40AM
HD36 wrote:
Pakistan has nuclear missles, Iran may have nuclear missles, China, Russia, and soon half the world will have nuclear missles. Maybe if we print a quadrillion dollars we can build that star wars anti missle defense system Reagan wanted.
on April 7,2013 | 12:28PM
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