SEOUL — U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Thomas Hubbard said Wednesday that even amid a difficult year, the United States and South Korea must face new North Korean threats with a strong alliance.

Hubbard told the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea that the North Korean people seem “sustained only by an irrational fear of the United States, and an equally irrational adulation of their own leadership, both of which they have been taught for decades in complete isolation from the rest of the world.”

Hubbard said North Koreans are the “unfortunate victims of a state with sadly misguided priorities” — including the recent North Korean nuclear crisis, in which the North began operating its Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

Officials fear North Korea is processing enriched uranium in an effort to produce nuclear weapons.

Hubbard also pointed to March 2, when four North Korean MiGs intercepted a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace over the Sea of Japan.

Such incidents “lend even greater urgency to finding an effective approach to dealing with the North’s worrisome behavior,” the ambassador said.

Asked by a reporter why the United States has not agreed to North Korean demands for U.S.-North Korean talks, Hubbard stressed that North Korea’s actions are of broader, international concern.

“Unmistakably, the international community agrees that North Korea cannot simply walk away from the solemn obligations it has undertaken, nor can it demand or expect any reward for ceasing to do what it should never have begun,” Hubbard said in his speech, referring to Pyongyang’s decision to no longer honor its anti-nuclear pledge.

“North Korea represents a clear proliferation threat, not only because of its own development of weapons of mass destruction but also because of the possibility that it could sell or give such weapons to terrorist enemies of the international community.”

Hubbard also discussed how the United States is attempting to reduce the amount of land it occupies on the Korean peninsula and how U.S. and South Korean defense ministers agreed in December to conduct a joint study on the challenges and opportunities the military alliance faces in the new century.

“One of these changes is the changing environment, including increasing urbanization, in which our forces here operate,” Hubbard said. “Together with the South Korean government, we are also looking at alternative locations for our base in Yongsan.

“Of course, our partnership should be as dynamic as the times in which we live. Americans, like Koreans, want a mature and balanced relationship between our two countries.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up