North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles poses a direct threat to the United States, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday, a blunt assessment of the risk posed by an erratic dictatorship that considers the U.S. its foremost enemy.

North Korea will have a limited ability to deliver a weapon to U.S. shores within five years using intercontinental ballistic missiles, Gates predicted. North Korea has threatened to test such missiles, and has already conducted underground nuclear tests that prove it has manufactured at least rudimentary nuclear weapons.

“With the North Koreans’ continuing development of nuclear weapons and their development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea is becoming a direct threat to the United States, and we have to take that into account,” Gates said.

The risk of war on the Korean Peninsula is also rising because South Koreans are fed up with provocation and harassment from the North, Gates said.

“We consider this a situation of real concern and we think there is some urgency to proceeding down the track of negotiations and engagement,” he said.

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