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SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il sees his military as the only means to influence the outside world and has shown little sincerity to address peace threats, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea said Tuesday.

“I have not come here today to speak about the North Korean military threat, but only to emphasize that it is indeed a thorn to the passage of peace in this region,” said Gen. Leon J. LaPorte. “This is not an assumption, it is a fact.”

LaPorte spoke Tuesday morning to about 200 members of the Korean Freedom League, a civic group that promotes democracy in South Korea. In a 20-minute speech, LaPorte said the border between North and South Korea is the most heavily armed in the world and remains “an area for potential confrontation.”

North Korea’s economy is on the brink of failure, yet has an active nuclear weapons program and large conventional force, LaPorte said. The regime proliferates missile and nuclear technologies, he said.

LaPorte cited provocations: In June, North Korean warships sank a South Korea patrol boat in the Yellow Sea, killing four South Korean sailors. The North restarted its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and is working to developed enriched uranium, shunning international agreements.

But U.S. and South Korean forces have superior military capabilities, LaPorte said. Those include better command and control, intelligence, surveillance, target detection, precision strike capability and trained servicemembers.

LaPorte said the U.S.-South Korea military alliance still requires some adjustment. Studies are under way, he said, on how South Korea can have an increasing role in its own national security.

The U.S. military needs to reduce its footprint across South Korea, LaPorte said.

“Having this large of a presence in such a highly populated area in the capital is inappropriate and understandably, an irritant to the South Korean people,” he said of the U.S. military presence.

In the past, U.S. forces had to have “physical proximity” to accomplish their military mission, LaPorte said. But now technology would allow U.S. forces to move south of Seoul.

“The main aspect of the alliance study is to ensure enhanced peninsula and regional securities with increased capability,” LaPorte said.


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