U.S. spy chief says North Korea remains grave threat...
U.S. spy chief says North Korea remains grave threat, China military growing
North Korea, in the aftermath of missile launches and an underground nuclear test last year, remains a grave danger to world security and threatens to unravel international efforts to stop the spread of atomic weapons, the chief of U.S. spying operations said Thursday.
National Intelligence Director John Negroponte told lawmakers the governments of both North Korea and Iran "flout U.N. Security Council restrictions on their nuclear programs, pervert the legitimate purposes of governance and ignore the needs and rights of their citizens."
In testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Negroponte also said that while prospects for conflict between rivals China and Taiwan diminished in 2006, Beijing continues to modernize its military, developing better long- and short-range missile systems "able to attack United States carriers and air bases."
"We assess that China's aspirations for great-power status, threat perceptions and security strategy would drive this modernization effort even if the Taiwan problem were resolved," Negroponte said.
Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified that "as long as Taiwan takes no further action toward independence, we judge" that China "will not try to force unification."
China is eager to stand firm against any independence efforts by Taiwan, the self-ruled island that the communist-led mainland claims as part of its territory. China also is working to cut the U.S. advantage in a potential air war over Taiwan.
Washington recognizes only one government of China but is committed by law to provide Taiwan weapons to defend itself against attack from the mainland.
On North Korea, Negroponte said its actions last year were particularly troubling. The North followed up its test launch of missiles in July with its nuclear explosion in October despite strong international criticism.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's actions, Negroponte said, could spur his neighbors to pursue nuclear bomb programs and thus deal a crippling blow to international nonproliferation rules.
Maples said "no immediate prospect of regime collapse is evident" in North Korea, and "major uncertainties surround the conditions under which the North would entirely abandon its nuclear weapons capability or the likelihood of the North transferring nuclear weapons-related technology abroad."
But, he said, the North is "committed to selling missiles and related technologies. Although sales have declined to most customers due to its increasing international isolation, North Korea's relationship with Iran and Syria remain strong and of principal concern."
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS -- WASHINGTON -- January 11, 2007