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SEOUL — U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. B.B. Bell said Monday that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program was “extremely provocative, threatening and dangerous,” and criticized the country’s testing of short-range missiles last week while nuclear inspectors were visiting.

“These were not failure missile tests. These were successful tests,” Bell told reporters at the National Press Center.

North Korea fired three surface-to-surface missiles last week that landed in its own waters, the third time since May 25 that the country has test-fired short-range missiles, according to The Associated Press.

The missiles are modern, rapid, and easier to handle than those North Korea has used in the past, Bell said.

“These missiles in general appear to be performing as they are designed,” he said.

North Korea’s conventional weapons aren’t as advanced as those used by the United States and South Korea, he said, but it has more than 250 long-range weapons systems that clearly are aimed at South Korea.

“This is a very real threat which cannot be ignored,” Bell said.

Those missiles would have regional and worldwide impact if launched, but he said there are “hopeful signs” that North Korea plans to follow denuclearization agreements reached during talks in February.

He also praised an agreement U.S. and South Korean military officials signed last week that outlines the transfer of operational wartime command on the peninsula. According to the agreement, South Korea will take wartime control of its forces in April 2012.

Bell said South Korean leaders are capable of leading a coalition of both countries’ forces during conflict, and that the military alliance between the two countries remains strong.

When asked whether the United States has done enough to clean up bases before returning them to South Korea, Bell said people should remember why the bases exist.

“These are meant to prepare (U.S.) soldiers to fight and die for this land,” he said, adding that preparing for war is a “dirty” business.

According to the status of forces agreement between the countries, USFK must return land it has been using to South Korea when it is no longer needed. South Korean officials initially refused to accept some bases, closed as part of USFK’s plan to consolidate its forces south of Seoul, because of environmental concerns.

U.S. officials can return the bases without removing pollutants beyond those posing “known, imminent, and substantial endangerments to human health,” but USFK officials have said they have gone beyond requirements to remove contaminants.

Bell said nearly 800 U.S. soldiers have died in South Korea since the end of the Korean War, and the U.S. has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on infrastructure and new buildings at the bases.

South Korea will get everything on the bases for free.

“In the end, the people of the Republic of Korea are winners,” Bell said.


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