Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the Chinese aren’t “doing what they can do and should do” to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
“They are the key to the solution to the problem, and they are a real disappointment,” Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said in an interview for Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.
China has been unwilling to work more closely with the U.S. to put pressure on North Korea, which it borders, even though the two economic powers share security concerns about the Korean peninsula, Levin said.
“They don’t want North Korea to have a nuclear weapon,” Levin said. “They don’t want North Korea probably to collapse, because of the immigration problem” that would cause China.
North Korea is unlikely to fire a nuclear-armed missile, even if it has the capability, because “that would lead to their own destruction, and they only care about their own survival,” he also said.
A finding by the Defense Intelligence Agency that was disclosed April 11 said the office has “moderate confidence” that North Korea now has some nuclear weapons that are small enough to be delivered on ballistic missiles. The reliability of those missiles “will be low,” the agency said.
The Pentagon distanced itself from the report, issuing a statement saying, “It would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed, or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced in the passage.”
Levin, 78, said the classified report represents “the minority view in the intelligence community. It’s not the majority view.”
If North Korea fires a missile, “We can defend against it, we can shoot it down,” he said. “If it had a nuclear warhead on it and we shot it down, we would then act against North Korea just for trying.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to Asia this weekend, said he will attempt to persuade Chinese President Xi Jinping to “put some teeth” into efforts to restrain North Korea.
“China has an enormous ability to help make a difference here, and I hope that in our conversations, when I get there tomorrow, we’ll be able to lay out a path ahead that can defuse this tension,” Kerry told a Seoul news conference yesterday.
Levin, in his interview, dismissed calls by some in South Korea for the country to develop its own nuclear arsenal, saying, “We don’t want to have a nuclear peninsula. We want to stop North Korea from doing what they’re doing.”
Levin also said the Obama administration hasn’t supplied all the material justifying the legal authority and policy guidance to use armed drones to strike suspected terrorists overseas.
“I’ve asked for it, but I don’t think we’ll succeed in any further demands, and I don’t think a court would sustain it,” he said. “They’d say it’s a political issue.”
The administration’s use of unmanned strike aircraft has become a political flashpoint on Capitol Hill, and the issue briefly held up the confirmation last month of John Brennan to be CIA director.
Levin offered a qualified endorsement of President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget, which proposes cuts in entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare along with some tax increases.
“The key for me is whether or not the Republicans will end their ideological rigidity on the question of revenues,” he said.
Levin, who has sought to close tax loopholes on corporations earning revenue overseas, also said, “A huge chunk of revenues could come from simply closing the loopholes, which, frankly, shouldn’t exist even if we had no deficit.”
The automatic budget cuts known as sequestration have begun “pinching our military readiness,” Levin said, citing a reduction in flying hours for pilots among the cutbacks.
“It’s been surprising to me,” he said, that “my Republican colleagues have basically gone along with sequestration, even though it has had that negative impact.”
He said Republicans have been unwilling to avoid sequestration by supporting more targeted spending cuts and additional revenue.
“They will not budge on the additional revenues,” he said.
Levin, a former Detroit City Council member first elected to the Senate in 1978, announced earlier this year he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2014. His brother, Michigan Democrat Sander Levin, 81, has served in the House since 1983.
To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at email@example.com