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Tenet: North Korea has ballistic missile capable of hitting U.S.

CIA Director Tenet testified Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
CIA Director Tenet testified Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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CIA Director George Tenet tells a Senate panel N. Korea has a missile that could hit the U.S. West Coast. CNN's Candy Crowley and Dana Bash report (February 12)
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Nuclear weapons capability by N. Korea could be a threat both directly and through its arms sales program. CNN's Mike Chinoy reports.
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TAEPO DONG 2
Length: 116 ft.
Payload: 2,200 lbs.
Range: 2,175 mi.
Sources: Federation of American Scientists, The Associated Press, Jane's Information Group, CIA
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea has an untested ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States, top U.S. intelligence officials said Wednesday.

While testifying at a Senate committee hearing in Washington, CIA Director George Tenet was asked whether North Korea had a ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. West Coast.

Before answering, Tenet turned to very quickly consult with aides sitting behind him.

"I think the declassified answer, is yes, they can do that," Tenet said.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, also testifying at the hearing, said outside the hearing room that the North Korean missile has not yet been flight tested, according to The Associated Press.

Moments earlier Tenet said it was likely that North Korea had been able to produce as many as two plutonium-based nuclear weapons.

The estimate is not new -- it was laid out in an unclassified CIA document in December 2001-- but Tenet is the most senior U.S. official to say so publicly.

The 2001 report said North Korea's Taepo Dong 2 missile may be capable of hitting the West Coast of the United States, as well Alaska and Hawaii.

The revelation came shortly after the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency declared North Korea in breach of international nuclear agreements and sent the issue to the U.N. Security Council. (Full story)

The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation executive board voted 31-0 to cite Pyongyang for being in breach of U.N. safeguards. Two countries, Russia and Cuba, abstained.

Russia had expressed concern over sending the matter to the Security Council, fearing it could push North Korea into further defiance. Sudan was not allowed to vote because it has not paid its dues, and another nation was not present.

Some officials have said there are moves to create a package for North Korea that would try to achieve a diplomatic solution. But the Security Council also could impose sanctions on Pyongyang in an attempt to persuade the North to drop its nuclear plans.

North Korea has said such a move would amount to a declaration of war.

The decision to send the matter to the Security Council comes at the same time that body has been dealing with weapons inspections in Iraq and whether Baghdad has been in compliance with U.N. Resolution 1441, which calls on Iraq to disarm.

Friday, the two top U.N. weapons inspectors report back to the council on their latest findings within Iraq.

European Union international policy chief Javier Solana -- who spent the last two days in meetings in South Korea -- said earlier Wednesday that now is not the time to impose sanctions on North Korea.

"I don't think this is the moment to do sanctions, and I do think the sanctions may contribute to the opposite that we want to obtain, which is defusing of the crisis," Solana said before the IAEA vote.

During his visit to Seoul, Solana has met with top South Korean officials, including President Kim Dae-jung, President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, the foreign minister and the minister of defense.

Solana also may travel to North Korea in the coming weeks to discuss ways to defuse the nuclear impasse. He said he would base the timing of any mission to Pyongyang on the wishes of North Korea's neighbors.

"All of them have told me 'the sooner, the better,' so we will do it the sooner, the better, Solana said.

Tensions have mounted on the Korean peninsula since last October when the United States said North Korea admitted to secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 deal.

Pyongyang, which denies the U.S. claim, responded by backing out of a nuclear non-proliferation treaty earlier this year, kicking out U.N. nuclear monitors and restarting a mothballed nuclear power plant in a move it says will compensate for an energy shortfall.


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