Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — North Korea's new leader is using the threat of a nuclear strike to get concessions on foreign aid rather than trying to trigger military conflict, top U.S. intelligence officials told Congress Thursday.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the House intelligence committee that he thinks new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is trying to show the U.S., the world and his own people that he is "firmly in control in North Korea," while attempting to maneuver the international community into concessions in future negotiations.
"I don't think...he has much of an endgame other than to somehow elicit recognition," and to turn the nuclear threat into "negotiation and to accommodation and presumably for aid," Clapper said.
Clapper said the intelligence community believes the North would only use nuclear weapons to preserve the Kim regime, but says they do not know how the regime defines that.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a different congressional hearing that he does not believe North Korea, nor Iran, have the technical ability to reach the continental U.S. with its nuclear weapons yet.
"Now does that mean that won't have it or they can't have it or they're not working on it?" Hagel said. "No. That's why this is a very dangerous situation."
Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, testifying with Hagel before the House Armed Services Committee, would not say whether North Korea has the capacity to arm a ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead.
"But they have conducted two nuclear tests," Dempsey said Wednesday. "They have conducted several successful ballistic missile launches. And in the absence of concrete evidence to the contrary, we have to assume the worst case, and that's why we're postured as we are today."
CIA Director John Brennan and Clapper both said judging Kim's actions is tougher because he hasn't been in power long.
AP National Security Writer Bob Burns contributed to this report from Washington.
Follow Dozier on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kimberlydozier.
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