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article imageDefense secretary Gates: North Korea a ‘direct threat’ to US

By Lynn Herrmann     Jan 12, 2011 in Politics
Washington - In his visit to Beijing, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said North Korea has come within five years of being able to hit the US with one of its intercontinental ballistic missiles and “is becoming a direct threat to the United States.”
Just the day before this dire prognosis, Gates warned of China’s increased military presence in the region and warned that the US would “respond appropriately” to that presence.
Despite an escalating US defense budget and the almost continuous sound of war drums beating within the government, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that Gates and the American government have “consistently underestimated” North Korea’s developmental pace of its nuclear and missile programs.
Commenting to reporters during his Beijing visit, Gates said North Korea’s current activities, including the expansion of its nuclear program, “is becoming a direct threat to the United States” and that the country would be able to strike the US mainland within five years, the NY Times noted.
Gates’ comments came only an hour after meeting with China’s president, Hu Jintao, and is seen as an attempt at convincing China that the White House no longer regards North Korea as the only threat in the region.
In the middle of four days of scheduled talks with China, the goal of Gates’ visit is to find common ground between US and Chinese militaries.
The North Korean government, an ally of China’s, recently issued a commentary calling South Korea a “puppet regime” of the US and sees US-South Korean military maneuvers currently being conducted on the Korean peninsula as threatening, warning that it has “limited” restraint over the activities.
The defense secretary added that pressure needs to continue on North Korea, stating: “We consider this a situation of real concern, and we think there is some urgency in proceeding down the track of negotiations,” the Times reported.
Gates’ remarks came on the same day the Chinese government conducted a test flight of its new J-20 stealth fighter jet. Seen as a show of military force by the Chinese government, the test flight lasted for 15 minutes and occurred just prior to Gates’ meeting with President Hu.
According to a recent report in the Telegraph, approximately 80 percent of China's military officers are graduates and while military troop numbers have decreased, the quality of troops has increased and two-thirds of the Chinese defense budget is spent on training and salaries.
The Telegraph also noted that, according to the Pentagon, China's medium and long-range missiles have conventional and nuclear warheads with a 4,000 mile range, effectively able to reach all US military air bases in the Pacific.
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