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UN: U.S. Officials Stress Missile Threat Is Real

A leading U.S. arms control official says developments since 1998 have convinced the Washington defense establishment of the need for a short-range missile defense shield. Meanwhile, one often-named "rogue" nation affirmed its status as a non-nuclear state. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 26 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A senior U.S. presidential adviser on arms control and security issues has singled out North Korean missile tests as the main reason the United States is considering a missile defense system.

The threat of "rogue" nations has repeatedly been cited by U.S. officials as the impetus for considering a missile shield which would require modifications in the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

The senior advisor to the U.S. president on arms control and international security, John Holum, told reporters Tuesday that U.S. defense officials have North Korea in mind as they plan the missile system. U.S. President Bill Clinton is expected to make a decision on the missile defense plan this summer.

Holum said the plans were prompted by North Korea's 1998 launch of a three-stage Taepo Dong missile capable of reaching some parts of the western United States. A U.S. national intelligence estimate in September 1999 focused on North Korea as being the rogue state of most imminent concern. Holum said Iran and Iraq may pose concerns at a later time.

A number of states at the review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have urged the United States to pursue strengthening the International Missile Technology Regime to limit the threat of rogue states. But Holum says North Korea's progress in missile testing indicates a missile defense would now be more effective than preventive measures.

"The intelligence analysis is that North Korea is very close to an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) capability through that system. Much closer to an ICBM capability than we are to the deployment of a national missile defense. We're five years away from having the missile defense. So we don't see prevention at this stage as necessarily a viable alternative to active defense."

Holum said the United States was still strongly supportive of preventive measures such as controls of missile technology transfers. He said these controls have limited the access of countries such as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq to more advanced missile technology.

Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi used the second day session of the NPT review to reject allegations that his country is pursuing nuclear weapons technology.

"The Islamic republic of Iran's conviction to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation is rock solid. It has foregone the nuclear weapon option and will remain committed to its freely undertaken commitment to non-proliferation."

Kharrazi said Iran was eager to explore peaceful use of nuclear technology to help with its energy needs. But he said "certain regimes" were barring its access to such technology despite the provisions for peaceful use of nuclear technology in Article Four of the NPT.

"One cannot but express dismay over the systematic denial of the transfer of technology to developing non-nuclear states parties to the NPT and restrictive export control policies exercised by the nuclear suppliers."

Iran has repeatedly said its efforts at acquiring nuclear technology are devoted to peaceful uses. But U.S. officials are skeptical.

A report by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency earlier this year said Iran sought technology and equipment for weapons of mass destruction programs last year from suppliers in Russia, China, North Korea, and Western Europe. The report said entities in Russia and China supplied a considerable amount and a wide variety of ballistic missile-related goods and technology to Iran last year.