Beijing, Jan 12 (ANI): US Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates, who is on a three-day visit to China, has warned that North Korea could attack the United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile within five years, adding that the country "is becoming a direct threat to America" with its efforts to expand its nuclear program.
"We consider this a situation of real concern, and we think there is some urgency in proceeding down the track of negotiations," The New York Times quoted Gates, as saying.
Gates' remarks, made just an hour after he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao might have been partly intended to convince China that the Obama administration no longer regards the North as a concern only in the region, the paper said.
According to an American official, Gates is a former Director of the Central Investigative Agency (C.I.A.), and his statement reflected both a new assessment by American intelligence officials and his own concern that Washington had consistently underestimated the pace at which the North was developing nuclear and missile technologies.
"The Chinese are always talking about their 'core interests' and threats they may have to respond to. They needed to hear that we have a few, too," he added.
Gates's new assessment on North Korea is a significant shift for the Obama administration, which until now has viewed the North first and foremost as a proliferation threat, fearing that it might sell its existing missiles and nuclear devices to other countries, like Iran, the paper said.
North Korea has a long history of missile trade with Iran, Syria and Pakistan, among other nations, and is believed to have provided the technology for Syria to build a reactor. The reactor was destroyed in a 2007 air raid by Israel, it added.
Last year, an American scientist, Siegfried Hecker, said in a report that he was taken during a recent trip to the North's main Yongbyon atomic complex to a small industrial-scale uranium enrichment facility. He also said that the facility had 2,000 recently completed centrifuges, and the North told him it was producing low-enriched uranium meant for a new reactor. (ANI)