Saturday, February 04, 2006

Democrats want intelligence on N Korea published

Democrats want intelligence on N Korea published

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Democrats asked President George W. Bush on Friday to publish U.S. intelligence on the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and questioned the president's commitment to dealing with the issue.

In a letter to Bush, the lawmakers said the communist state was a greater danger to U.S. security than in 2002 when he described Pyongyang as part of an "axis of evil". Pyongyang has since said it has nuclear weapons.

The letter was signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and the top Democrats on the Senate intelligence, armed services and foreign relations committees.

They criticized Bush for not mentioning North Korea in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, saying the omission called "into question the credibility of your commitment to addressing this threat."

The Democrats wrote: "We are now faced with the real possibility that North Korea may have perhaps as many as a dozen nuclear weapons. We have no guarantee that North Korea will not export fissile material or even finished nuclear weapons."

They said experts believed North Korea had the capability to deploy nuclear warheads on missiles that could threaten South Korea and Japan.

The Democrats urged Bush to release a declassified version of a newly crafted national intelligence estimate on North Korea's nuclear weapons and long-range missile development programs.

National intelligence estimates are reports that reflect the views of the entire 15-agency U.S. intelligence community.

The administration drew up such a report on Iraq's weapons capabilities in 2002 in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion and released a declassified version to the public. Both versions were later widely criticized for claiming that Iraq possessed unconventional weapons which have never been found.

U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte told the Senate on Thursday that it was "probably true" that North Korea possessed nuclear weapons and described Pyongyang as a threat to international security in a historically volatile region.

A Negroponte spokesman on Friday declined to confirm the existence of any recent national intelligence estimate on North Korea. But a spokesman for the White House national security council said "We've received the letter and will respond."