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Goss: North Korea's nuclear capability grows

CIA director also cites chemical, biological weapons programs

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea's nuclear weapons arsenal has grown since the country was labeled part of an "axis of evil" by President Bush three years ago, CIA Director Porter Goss testified Wednesday before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

"Our assessment is they have a greater capability than that assessment," Goss said, referring to a January 2002 CIA assessment of North Korea's nuclear program, which stated the communist state had produced enough plutonium for one or two nuclear weapons.

"In other words, it has increased since then."

In his first public appearance as CIA director, Goss said he could not be more specific because the information was classified.

In his opening statement to the committee, Goss outlined various international threats to the United States, including al Qaeda, whose leaders -- Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri -- remain at large. (Full story)

In addition to pursuing nuclear weapons, Goss said North Korea "continues to develop, produce, deploy and sell ballistic missiles of increasing range, augmenting Pyongyang's large operational force of Scud and No Dong class missiles."

North Korea is looking for new customers for its ballistic-missile technology, Goss said, now that "traditional customers" such as Libya have stopped trading with North Korea.

The CIA also believes North Korea has "active chemical weapons and biological weapons programs," and may even have chemical and biological weapons at their disposal, Goss said.

U.S.: No concessions

Bush labeled North Korea, Iran and Iraq an "axis of evil" in his January 2002 State of the Union address.

"By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger," the president said then.

By the end of 2002, North Korea had expelled inspectors from the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency and removed the IAEA's monitoring seals and cameras from its nuclear facilities.

Six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program have been stalled since September 2004, and North Korea last Thursday said it had no intention of returning to the negotiating table.

Pyongyang also declared for the first time publicly that the country has nuclear weapons and threatened to bolster its weapons arsenal, in response to what it deemed U.S. threats to its political system.

The United States has refused to offer concessions to entice North Korea back to the multilateral talks, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Monday.

Three of the other parties -- China, South Korea and Japan -- have advocated a more conciliatory approach to solving the North Korean nuclear issues and have urged the United States to be more flexible.

The CIA director told the committee he believes the main reason for nuclear proliferation in countries such as North Korea and Iran is not so much to stage an attack as to keep up with their nuclear neighbors.

"Having watched the pride of some countries in acquiring the world-stage status of having nuclear weapons -- and what that has meant for nationalism and leadership ... it becomes almost a piece of the holy grail for a small country that otherwise might be victimized living in a dangerous neighborhood," Goss said.

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