Top US general: N. Korea remains a military threat

But Gen. B.B. Bell says he's hopeful Pyongyang will fulfill its denuclearization commitments.

B.B. Bell 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
B.B. Bell 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The top US military commander in South Korea welcomed moves by North Korea to fulfill its denuclearization commitments, but said Monday that the country remains a military threat. "We are all very hopeful that the North Koreans will live up to the agreement they have made," US Gen. B.B. Bell told reporters at the National Press Club, referring to a February accord the communist country reached with five other countries, including the United States. North Korea last week said it would move to carry out its promise in a February accord with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US to shut down and seal its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Pyongyang also allowed inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog to visit the facility. However, Bell added that the communist country retains the capability to attack Seoul with conventional artillery and special forces. "This is a very real threat which cannot be ignored," he said. Bell also called North Korea's recent missile tests a threat to South Korea. Last week, North Korea fired three short-range surface-to-surface missiles that landed in its territorial waters, US Defense Department officials said, the third time in a month that the North test-fired a short-range missile, following launches on May 25 and June 7. "What I find very disturbing is that the North continues to test advanced short range missiles," Bell said. "These are designed to be used on this peninsula," he said, adding that they have enough range not only to threaten Seoul - near the border with North Korea - but other cities as well. "These were not failure missile tests," Bell said. "They were successful missile tests." Bell said he did not know why North Korea continues to conduct such missile launches, and questioned why the country chose to do so last week while the International Atomic Energy Agency officials were visiting the country. "I can't gauge Kim Jong Ils's intent and I won't try to," Bell said, referring to North Korea's leader. "I will tell you we are ready and capable. And we will stay ready and capable." The United States stations 29,500 US troops in South Korea as a deterrent against nuclear-armed, communist North Korea. The presence is a legacy of the Korean War, which ended in a 1953 cease-fire that has never been replaced by a peace treaty.