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Pentagon: North Korea moving closer to developing nuke that can hit U.S.

Jon Chol Jin / AP

A man walks by a poster reading "Severe punishment to the U.S. and their followers" in the central district of Pyongyang, North Korea, on Thursday, May 2, 2013.

North Korean advances in nuclear technology are moving the country closer to its goal of being able to strike the United States with an atomic weapon, according to a new Pentagon report submitted to Congress on Thursday.

Though the unclassifed version of the report gave no timetable for when North Korea may have the ability to hit North American soil with a weapon, it did say recent progress is in line with the country's desires to soon be able to carry out such an attack. 

"These advances in ballistic-missile delivery systems, coupled with developments in nuclear technology ... are in line with North Korea's stated objective of being able to strike the U.S. homeland," the report said. 

The report added: "North Korea will move closer to this goal, as well as increase the threat it poses to U.S. forces and allies in the region, if it continues testing and devoting scarce regime resources to these programs."

The Pentagon assessment to lawmakers is required by law and comes after a period of escalating tensions between the two countries. The report calls North Korea one of America's "most critical security challenges" in the region because of its pursuit of nuclear weapons coincides with "provocative and destabilizing behavior."

Washington and Pyongyang began 2013 in a standoff after the North launched of a satellite into space last December, which the report cites as a major contributor to the country's long-range capabilities. That was followed by a nuclear test in February of 2013, which led to sanctions from the United Nations that only brought more threats from the cantankerous country.

Still, the report also noted that North Korea has yet to complete some of the necessary steps required for the country to develop a weapon that can reach the U.S.  It stated that they have not yet tested a re-entry vehicle necessary for a warhead to get back inside the Earth's atmosphere and hit a target.

The report also indicates that newly minted leader Kim Jong Un will follow in his father's footsteps in practicing "coercive diplomacy" and development of military capabilities to deter outside attacks.

As chief Asia photographer for the Associated Press, David Guttenfelder has had unprecedented access to communist North Korea. Here's a rare look at life in the secretive country.