President Obama's national intelligence director says North Korea probably would not use nuclear weapons against the United States unless Pyongyang was on the verge of military defeat.
Dennis Blair says the North Korea's small nuclear arsenal is more for deterrence, international prestige and coercive diplomacy.
Blair also told a Senate hearing Thursday that Pyongyang is not likely to export nuclear weapons or material for the time being. But he said Washington is concerned about North Korea spreading nuclear technology and ballistic missiles.
The U.S. director of national intelligence also noted that relations between China and Taiwan are improving. But he said preparations for a possible conflict with Taiwan continue to drive China's military modernization.
In Indonesia, Blair said the government has arrested or killed hundreds of operatives and leaders of the Jemaah Islamiya terror group. He said Jemaah Islamiya and the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines pose threats to U.S. interests in Southeast Asia -- but that efforts against those two groups in the past few years have degraded their attack capabilities.
In separate news, the U.S. State Department on Thursday would not confirm media reports that Stephen Bosworth will be named the new U.S. envoy for North Korea.
Sources, who spoke with the Associated Press and Reuters on the grounds they not be identified, said late Wednesday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to choose the former U.S. ambassador to South Korea for the post.
Bosworth, who currently serves as dean of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, would not confirm the reports.
The former diplomat has just returned from a five-day visit to North Korea, where he says officials told him they are willing to talk to the Obama administration.
Clinton will start her first foreign trip as secretary of state on Sunday when she departs for Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.