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North Korea missile threat growing: US military

Reuters | March 8 2006

North Korea is set to deploy ballistic missiles that could reach Alaska and remains a global security threat despite its failing economy, the head of the U.S. military in South Korea told a Senate hearing on Tuesday.

"Reports indicate North Korea is also preparing to field a new intermediate range ballistic missile which could easily reach United States facilities in Okinawa, Guam, and possibly Alaska," Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In a prepared statement, the leader of more than 30,000 U.S. troops in South Korea included the missiles among North Korean threats such as a huge conventional army, 100,000 special forces and 250 long-range artillery systems that have Seoul, the South's capital, within range.

Despite economic troubles that crimped its budget, "North Korea, through its 'Military First' policy, has continued significant investment in asymmetric capabilities that include nuclear weapons programs, special operations forces, missiles, and weapons of mass destruction," Bell said.

The unconventional weapons include chemical weapons and a biological weapons research program, the general told the committee.

North Korea is working on a three-stage version of its long-range Taepo Dong missile, which could be operational in the next decade and would enable the country "to directly target the continental United States," Bell said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's government remains committed to reunifying the Korean Peninsula under Kim's control, Bell said, but added, "the ultimate goal of the North Korean dictator is self-preservation."

Bell, who took over the South Korea command last month, told the hearing that U.S. ally Seoul was "eager to achieve a more constructive relationship with North Korea" through economic cooperation and other exchanges.

But he added, "We continue to encounter calculated North Korean efforts to divide an alliance that has been the foundation for peace and prosperity in the Northeast Asia region for over half a century."

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