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N.Korea closer to nuclear-warhead missile

N.Korea closer to nuclear-warhead missile

North Korea likely is closer to mounting nuclear warheads on its ballistic missiles than generally reported, possibly only one or two years away, the Congress's former top expert on the issue has concluded.

Larry Niksch, who tracked North Korea for the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service for 43 years, concludes in a new paper that the North probably would need as little as one to two years to miniaturize and mount a nuclear warhead atop its medium-range Nodong missile once it has produced enough highly enriched uranium as the warhead's core fuel.

A North Korea armed with nuclear-tipped missiles would rattle East Asia and present new policy and military challenges to the United States and its allies.

Trying to determine when Pyongyang will reach that threshold has long been a challenge for the U.S. intelligence community. Niksch's timeline, if correct, puts out a new marker for strategists.

Last January, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the North was within five years of building an intercontinental ballistic missile that, paired with its nuclear program, would be "a direct threat" to the United States.

North Korea has staged relatively few missile tests in recent years, suggesting it is still working on perfecting the needed technologies even as it has cooperated with Iran to do so.

Its nuclear and missile capabilities are once again in the spotlight as power passes to North Korea's designated young leader, Kim Jong-un, after the December 17 death of his father, Kim Jong-il.

Source: 28 December 2011 - Daily Air Force News (REUTERS)

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