It's Official: N. Korea
Is Still Developing
WASHINGTON - North Korea, despite a pledge reported by the Clinton administration, is continuing to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles that can strike the United States, a senior Pentagon official testified.
Walter B. Slocombe, under secretary of defense for policy, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that despite a reported North Korean pledge to halt tests of the Taepo Dong II, Pyongyang has not suspended missile development.
"[The pledge] does not mean a halt to the North Korean program, which continues to progress through steps other than flight tests, much less an end to the potential threat from North Korea," Slocombe said. "Accordingly, we continue to base our NMD [National Missile Defense] efforts on the assessment, reflected in the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate], that North Korea probably will test the TD-2 [Taepo Dong] this year."
Slocombe said the Taepo Dong 2 is more deadly than its predecessor launched in July 1998, which flew over Japan. He said U.S. intelligence expected the 1998 North Korean launch of the Taepo Dong missile. But "it did not anticipate that the missile would have a third stage, or that it would be used to attempt to place a satellite in orbit," he said.
The U.S. official said North Korea is the most immediate ballistic missile threat to the United States. Slocombe said Iran and possibly Iraq could also obtain the capability of launching intercontinental ballistic missiles toward the United States within the next 15 years.
Slocombe said the U.S. National Missile Defense Program, which achieved a successful intercept of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Oct. 2, is geared toward the emerging danger posed by "rogue states such as North Korea and Iran which are likely to be able to field intercontinental range missiles that could deliver chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.
The U.S. official said Iran could test a missile that could strike the United States with a several hundred kilogram payload in the latter half of the next decade. Iran would be aided by Russian or foreign technology. Another option is to pursue a missile program patterned after the Taepo Dong II with North Korean assistance in the next few years.
Slocombe said that Iraq, released from United Nations sanctions could test an intercontinental ballistic missile by the end of the next decade, depending on the level of foreign assistance. "If Iraq could buy a TD-2 from North Korea, it could have a launch capability within months of the purchase," he said.
In a related development, the United States has closed a missile monitoring base in the Australian Outback used in the Gulf war because satellites have replaced the need for the base. The joint Australia-U.S. Nurrungar base near Woomera, 455 kilometers [280] miles north of Adelaide was used for 29 years to monitoring missile launches. In the 1990 Persian Gulf War, the base was crucial in the early warning of Iraqi Scud missile launches.