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North Korea could pose ICBM threat to US: Gates

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North Korea test firing a missile in this file photo.

BEIJING (AFP): US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said North Korea could develop intercontinental ballistic missiles within five years that would pose a direct threat to the United States.

His comments represented a shift in the US view of North Korea's arsenal, reflecting growing dismay in Washington over the pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles by the hardline regime in Pyongyang.

"I think North Korea will have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile within that timeframe (five years)," Gates told reporters during a visit to Beijing, where he discussed tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Gates, who met Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday, said he had conveyed to the country's leaders that their allies in Pyongyang would soon present a danger to the United States.

"With the North Koreans' continued development of nuclear weapons and their development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea is becoming a direct threat to the US and we have to take that into account," he said.

Gates said the United States appreciated the "helpful role" played by Beijing in recent months in containing the Korean crisis, after Pyongyang shelled a South Korean island in November, killing four people.

But he also said there had been a "sea change" in attitudes in South Korea, with the country's population outraged over Pyongyang's recent "provocations."

"Their tolerance for not responding has changed," he said.

Apart from the November 23 attack on Yeonpyeong island, the North stands accused by the South of torpedoing a warship last March with the loss of 46 lives. Pyongyang denies the charge.

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ICBM  N Korea  US  
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