Washington, DC—Today, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Armed Services Ranking Democrat Carl Levin, Foreign Relations Ranking Democrat Joe Biden, and Intelligence Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller sent a letter to the President questioning why he has ceased discussing the serious threat from North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which has grown substantially on the President’s watch. The letter calls for the President to provide Congress and the American public with a declassified national intelligence estimate (NIE) on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs so that a full and free debate can occur about the best policy on North Korea going forward.
A copy of the letter is below:
February 3, 2006
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Four years ago, in your 2002 State of the Union address, you focused the world’s attention on concerns about the possible nuclear ambitions of three countries you called an “axis of evil” – Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Unfortunately, each now poses an even greater challenge to U.S. security than it did four years ago. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but it risks becoming what it was not before the war: a haven for terrorists. Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than it was four years ago. And North Korea has increased its fissile material stockpile by as much as 400 percent.
In particular, we are troubled that the nuclear threat from North Korea, which has grown substantially, was ignored in Tuesday’s State of the Union address, calling into question the credibility of your commitment to addressing this threat.
Four years ago, this is how you described your intentions regarding North Korea:
We’ll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons. (2002 State of the Union address)
Three years ago, in a May 2003 joint statement with the President of South Korea you reaffirmed that you “will not tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea.”
Two years ago, the Vice President asserted about North Korea’s nuclear activities that “it is important that we make progress in this area. Time is not necessarily on our side.”
One year ago, we wrote to you that “the record before us leads us to conclude that no real progress has been made” and that “with respect to the challenge of North Korea, American national security has degraded over the past year.” Today, it is even more clear that time is not on our side, and it appears that your policy still has not resulted in an elimination, freeze, or even a slowing of North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile activities.
Most experts have assessed that from 1992 until sometime in 2002, North Korea had the capability to produce perhaps 1-2 nuclear weapons. North Korea recently has declared that since 2002 they have reprocessed 8,000 plutonium spent fuel rods, and have been engaged in preparing more plutonium for potential weapons use. 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. Moreover, many experts believe North Korea has the capability to deploy nuclear warheads on its Nodong missiles, bringing the entire Korean Peninsula and much of Japan under the threat of nuclear attack.
We urge you to clearly describe to America and the Congress your policies on North Korea so that we can begin, in a bipartisan effort, to put U.S. policy on a more productive path that reduces the threat to U.S. national security. The Intelligence Community recently has completed, at Senator Levin’s request, a comprehensive National Intelligence Estimate of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and long-range missile development programs. We hereby request that you provide to us a declassified version of that NIE so that Congress can have at hand accurate information about the current threat and engage in a full and free debate about the best policy on North Korea going forward. Thank you.
Senate Democratic Leader
Senate Armed Services Committee
Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
John D. Rockefeller IV
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence