Chuck Hagel, the controversial nominee for U.S. defense secretary, told a Senate confirmation hearing that North Korea is a "real nuclear power and quite unpredictable."
Hagel's comments have upset some people who are sensitive to any wording that would officially acknowledge North Korea's status as a "nuclear power" in the sense of being entitled to sit at the big table with countries like the U.S., U.K. and France.
Treating North Korea as a nuclear power -- or perhaps it would be better capitalized "Nuclear Power" -- would upset signatory countries to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. At the same time, there is no dispute that North Korea has nuclear weapons.
Hagel recommended the U.S. should cooperate with other countries to block and search North Korean ships and aircraft suspected of carrying illicit cargo.
The main thrust of Hagel's argument, however, seems to lie elsewhere: the nominee referred to Iran's nuclear program as a "serious threat" compared to North Korea's, which he called "beyond a threat."
Hagel is unpopular with hard-right pro-Israeli lawmakers in Washington, who see his cautious line on Iran as a sign that he is soft on America's and Israel's enemies, the worst of which they believe to be Tehran.