Reacting to a report in the New York Times that North Korea has made a major advance in nuclear technology, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen told "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour that the potential the development of nuclear weapons in the region is a "huge concern." Mullen called the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il "predictable in his unpredictability," and said North Korea is a "very dangerous country."
"The assumption certainly is that they continue to head in the direction of additional nuclear weapons," Mullen said. "And they're also known to proliferate this technology."
President Obama, Mullen said, has dispatched a team to the region to "re-engage," and that China will play a key role in dealing with North Korea.
"A great part of this, I think, will have to be done through Beijing," he said.
Mullen also commented on the START treaty, now stalled in the Senate calling it "absolutely critical" from a national security perspective. Republican leaders are asking for more time to study the treaty, which has been the subject of 18 Senate hearings. The nation's top military man said he's studied it enough.
"I've reviewed it several times and it is a very clear commitment to modernize the nuclear infrastructure in this country," he said.
There needs to be a "sense of urgency" about ratifying the treaty, Mullen said. "This is a national security issue of great significance and the sooner we get it done, the better."
Mullen said he's concerned that the failure to ratify the treaty with Russia could harm U.S.-Russian relations. The Russians, Mullen said, "have clearly sent signals already with respect to that which haven't been positive."
Russia has supported the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan by allowing for the transport of significant equipment.
Mullen stood firm on the 2014 deadline for the United States and its NATO allies to end combat operations in Afghanistan. Pressed on whether the 2014 date for transferring combat responsibilities to Afghan forces is absolute, Mullen said, "Yes it is. It's the one everybody signed up for."
A newly-published al Qaeda-affiliated magazine said that that last month's attempt to blow-up airplanes using bombs concealed in printer cartridges was executed for only $4,200.
The propaganda magazine for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula called the effort "Operation Hemorrhage," and said the intent was to cause economic damage to the west.
Mullen praised the efforts that went into foiling the plot but said the attempts worry him.
"It's a very serious threat," he said. "I believe what they are saying. They've grown, it's dangerous and it's a place we need to focus."
The admiral repeated his personal belief that "don't ask, don't tell" ought to be repealed because "asking individuals to come in and lie about who they are every day goes counter to who we are as an institution."
However, he would not comment on a Pentagon report examining the implications of repealing the law that keeps gays from serving openly in the military. The report is expected to be issued on Dec. 1.