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On Saturday, Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, sought to play down the threat as not credible. Asked about the reported Chinese submarine missile threat against U.S. cities, he said that for China’s underwater strategic missile threat to be effective “it has to be accurate, you have to be stealthy, and survivable, and I’ll leave it at that.”

A U.S. official said Washington will spend $10 million on a building in Beijing, but Energy Department spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the cost of the nuclear center. Questions were referred to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s 2011 news release, which contained no details.

White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment on the published reports in China of plans for nuclear strikes on U.S. cities.

But she said the nuclear security center in Beijing would not be involved in securing Chinese weapons.

She referred questions to a State Department fact sheet that said such facilities “advance the U.S. nuclear security agenda by highlighting the importance of strengthening nuclear security worldwide and working to address the need for capacity building, technology development, and coordination of assistance on nuclear security.”

The centers provide training in the protection of nuclear facilities and material from theft or sabotage, and also to develop methods used to detect nuclear material and detonations.

Additionally, the center is aimed at preventing “illicit trade of nuclear technologies” — a practice that U.S. officials say China carried out during the 1990s by providing Pakistan with nuclear warhead technology.

John Tkacik, a former State Department intelligence official, said there is little need for such as center unless it could provide insight into China’s fissile materials, infrastructure and capacities, and nuclear weapons command and control.

“But I’m not sure it’s worth our trouble and expense if the purpose is to modernize China’s nuclear materials research and management,” Mr. Tkacik said. “The Chinese know what their limitations are, and they can afford to cover the entire cost of overcoming them if they want.”

Another concern is that the Chinese, by publicizing the U.S. nuclear cooperation, are sending an unsettling diplomatic message to Japan following the late October propaganda campaign disclosing planned Chinese nuclear missile strikes on the U.S. homeland, Mr. Tkacik said.

DEMPSEY ON AFGHANISTAN

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this week outlined his thinking on plans for U.S. troops in Afghanistan after President Obama’s deadline of 2014 to pull them out.

Gen. Dempsey said troops would remain in Afghanistan to help with stability and to assure that foreign aid continues to flow into the impoverished southwest Asian state.

“After 2014, Afghanistan can live without a ubiquitous presence of U.S. military forces in their country,” Gen. Dempsey said Tuesday during a forum hosted by The Wall Street Journal. “They can’t live without any.”

The comments contradict Mr. Obama’s promise to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan next year.

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