Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The United States Doesn't Know For Fact North Korea Has Nuclear Weapons

The U.S. intelligence chief retreated slightly Wednesday on his North Korean nuclear assessment, saying the U.S. doesn't "know for a fact" that the communist regime has nuclear weapons. The assessment is that Pyongyang does have such weapons, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said, but at the same time he declined to estimate how many. The director reiterated his view that North Korea's claim of having the weapons "is probably true." "We believe North Korea continues to produce plutonium for its nuclear weapons," Negroponte told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "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.
But he declined to even guess how many such weapons the communist regime might possess. "I've been very reluctant to get into numbers because first of all, we assess that they probably have nuclear weapons as they claim that they do," Negroponte said. "But we don't know for a fact that they've got such weapons," he said. "So we are in the situation here of assessing that they have them."
"So to then say with precision the number they've got I think would be difficult to do with our level of knowledge." It would "merely be a speculation" to talk numbers, he said. The U.S. intelligence community has offered different estimates on North Korea's nuclear stockpile, but they commonly range from two up to half a dozen.