The one-time head of U.S. troops in South Korea said North Korea could be five to seven years away from producing a ballistic missile that could strike the continental United States, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
"If North Korea continues its military first policy and continues to put its full effort into nuclear missile development, it is my assessment that it could develop an operational ICBM capable of targeting the United States in the next five to seven years," retired Gen. Burwell Bell told the news service by e-mail.
The North in December launched a long-range space rocket in what was widely seen as another test of strategic ballistic missile technology. On Feb. 12, Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test, which appears to have been its most successful detonation to date.
Bell expressed concern over the North's acquisition of Chinese transporter vehicles for use in carrying its KN-08 missile. While the systems are not yet militarily active, the development is a "very disturbing issue," he said.
"It indicates that China continues to provide technology and capability for the North to threaten its neighbors and indeed the world," Bell stated. "China should be harshly condemned for assisting North Korea in advancing its capability to destabilize the region and threaten its neighbors."