ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is meeting with top Chinese government officials this week in Beijing. At the top of the agenda is how to deal with the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. Today, Secretary Gates said he believes North Korea is on track to develop a missile within the next five years that could target the U.S.
NPR's Rachel Martin reports.
RACHEL MARTIN: The concern is that a North Korean attack could actually reach American territory. Here's Secretary Gates.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): With the North Koreans' continuing development of nuclear weapons and their development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea is becoming a direct threat to the United States.
MARTIN: The key here is the combination, the nuclear warhead and the missile. Gates said North Korea could develop long-range capability by 2016. Victor Cha is a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mr. VICTOR CHA (Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies): What he is trying to convey is that North Korea poses an existential security threat not just to allies in the region, but to the United States and even its homeland. And I think that is meant to convey to the North Koreans, but also to the Chinese, how seriously the United States takes this threat.
MARTIN: The problem, says Cha, is getting China to take it just as seriously. China is North Korea's most powerful ally and has the potential to influence North Korea's actions.
Mr. CHA: Chinese behavior, it looks as though they really do not see North Korea as a security threat. They see it as a security problem, but not as a security threat to countries in the region or the United States.
MARTIN: Secretary Gates didn't make any direct requests of the Chinese. But he did suggest that it may be time for North Korea to put a moratorium on missile and nuclear testing. Because, while it's important to get North Korea back to the negotiating table, Gates said he wants to avoid what's become an unending cycle. North Korea acts aggressively and the international community scrambles to avert a crisis.
Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington.
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