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N. Korea's Nuclear Weapons Pose Threat for US, Japan - 2002-11-08

A senior U.S. defense official warns that North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs threaten Japan and the United States. The official also says Washington thinks Pyongyang already has a nuclear bombs.

U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, in Tokyo to meet with Japanese officials, told reporters that North Korea has one or two nuclear weapons and possibly more.

However, he says North Korea is an astonishingly secretive country and that Washington's understanding of its weapons program is limited.

"The North Korean nuclear weapons program is a serious threat," Mr. Feith said. "It obviously would be highly desirable to resolve this problem diplomatically but the North Korean regime has shown its willingness to flout its international obligations and to defy the international community."

Last month, North Korea admitted to the United States that it has a uranium enrichment program, which violates several international agreements.

The United States, Japan and South Korea are pressing it to give up the program. The three countries will discuss the issue on Saturday in Tokyo.

Mr. Feith told reporters that North Korea's nuclear weapons and its ballistic missile program are of great importance to the security of both Japan and the United States. In 1998, Pyongyang test fired a missile over Japan, surprising the world. Some defense analysts suspect it is developing a missile that could reach the United States.

"There is a common understanding that the missile threat facing the U.S. and Japan is serious," U.S. Undersecretary of Defense said. "Cooperation between us to counter this threat and protect our people is very useful. We have been cooperating and we are talking about the future of that cooperation. It is an effort that is in the interest of both countries."

Undersecretary Feith confirms that Japan, South Korea and the United States are discussing whether to proceed with a project to build two light-water reactors in the North.

The reactors, which will produce electricity, were promised to the North eight years ago, after it agreed to stop a nuclear program that was capable of producing weapons.