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Intelligence

01 March 2006

Iran, North Korea Threaten To Develop, Spread Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear proliferation second only to terrorism as danger to United States

Washington – Iran and North Korea continue to present the greatest challenges to international efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons, say leading members of the U.S. intelligence community.

In a February 28 global threat assessment before the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Negroponte, director of national intelligence, and Lieutenant General Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, agreed that the continuing threat of nuclear proliferation remains a clear and present danger to the United States, second only to the threat of a terrorist attack. (See related article.)

For the past 20 years, Negroponte said, Iran has conducted a clandestine uranium enrichment program, a violation of its agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. (See related article.) 

“We believe Iran is committed to acquiring a nuclear weapon and is currently developing the infrastructure to produce highly enriched uranium and plutonium for that purpose,” Maples said. (See related article.)

The ascent of hardliners in the Iranian government who resumed suspicious nuclear activities in violation of its nonproliferation obligations further has heightened the U.S. intelligence community’s concern, said Negroponte. (See related article.)  

“While Tehran probably does not yet have a nuclear weapon and probably has not yet produced or acquired the necessary fissile material, the danger that it will do so is a reason for immediate concern,” Negroponte said.

Negroponte and Maples told senators that a nuclear-armed Iran is especially dangerous, given its stockpile of ballistic missiles, believed by the intelligence community to be the largest in the Middle East. 

Maples added that Iran currently is developing longer-range missile systems potentially capable of striking targets as far away as Central Europe.  

In addition to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Maples also told senators that U.S. intelligence experts “believe that Iran maintains offensive chemical and biological weapons capabilities in various stages of development as well.” 

NORTH KOREA CONTINUES ITS CHALLENGE

Unlike Iran, North Korea claims already to have nuclear weapons,  -- “a claim that we assess is probably true,” said Negroponte.  

Negroponte did not provide further details on the projected size of North Korea’s potential inventory of nuclear weapons, but said that Pyongyang’s weapons program is seen by its leaders as a means to ensure the regime’s security, a deterrent to superior U.S. and South Korean troops and a mark of international prestige.   

In addition, Maples told senators that North Korea continues to invest in the development of ballistic missiles, not only for defense but also to sell to foreign nations.

Even though the United States and North Korea’s neighbors continue to seek a solution through the Six-Party Talks, both Negroponte and Maples agreed that North Korea remains a major challenge to global nuclear nonproliferation regimes. (See related article.) 

Negroponte said that the intelligence community does not know under what conditions North Korea would give up nuclear weapons; Maples gave senators an even more pessimistic assessment.

“Because of its strong security, nationalistic and economic motivations for possessing nuclear weapons, we are uncertain whether the North Korean government can be persuaded to fully relinquish its program,” he said.

Prepared remarks to the Senate Armed Services Committee from Negroponte and Maples are available on the Web sites of their respective offices.

For more information, see Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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