N. Korean Nuclear Advance Is Cited
Friday, April 29, 2005
The Pentagon's top military intelligence officer said yesterday that North Korea has the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear device, stunning senators he was addressing and prompting attempts by other defense and intelligence officials later to play down the remarks.
The statement by Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby before the Senate Armed Services Committee marked the first time that a U.S. official had publicly attributed such a capability to North Korea.
Although U.S. intelligence authorities have said for years that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons and could probably reach the United States with its long-range rockets, they had stopped short of asserting that Pyongyang had mastered the difficult task of miniaturizing a nuclear device to fit atop a ballistic missile.
Later in the day, the Defense Intelligence Agency, which Jacoby heads, issued a statement seeking to portray the admiral's assessment as nothing new and still largely theoretical. It cited his testimony last month before the same committee, where he said North Korea is developing a missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead to parts of the United States.
But those comments dealt with the ability of the North Korean missile, known as the Taepo Dong 2, to go the distance with a nuclear warhead -- not whether North Korea could actually mount such warheads on its missiles.
Other DIA and CIA officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, went further in seeking to play down yesterday's testimony by suggesting that Jacoby had misspoken. They said the U.S. intelligence community's assessment of North Korea's nuclear missile capability had not changed. The consensus view, they said, remains that North Korea is still some years away from being able to put nuclear warheads on long-range missiles.
But several Senate staff members who witnessed the testimony and have access to U.S. intelligence on North Korea indicated that Jacoby's comments did in fact reflect some recent information they had seen, although they expressed surprise that the admiral had gone public with the new assessment.
"He may not have meant to say it in a public forum," one staff member speculated.
Another Senate official said there is considerable support in the intelligence community for the idea that North Korea has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead for a missile. He indicated that he had read such internal analyses in recent months but added: "There is a difference between believing something is true and having evidence that something is true."
President Bush, speaking at a news conference last night about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, said: "There is concern about his capacity to deliver a nuclear weapon. We don't know if he can or not, but I think it's best, when you're dealing with a tyrant like Kim Jong Il, to assume he can."
Jacoby's remarks were made in response to questions from Sen. Hillary Rodman Clinton (D-N.Y.). Senate aides said the questions had been carefully crafted in consultation with the committee staff.
"Admiral, let me ask you, do you assess that North Korea has the ability to arm a missile with a nuclear device?" Clinton said.