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Further N. Korean provocations could be on the horizon: Adm. Willard

WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) -- The military commander in charge of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region expressed concern Tuesday that North Korea will resume belligerence related to its ongoing power succession.

“The dynamics surrounding succession and, you know, most importantly, the prospect of continued provocations is another dynamic that we must pay very close attention to,” Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said in a briefing at the Foreign Press Center in Washington.

He said the U.S. believes that succession was a factor in the North’s deadly attacks on the South in 2010 that killed 50 soldiers and civilians.

The North’s leader, Kim Jong-il, suffered a heart attack in 2008 and apparently has named his third son, Kim Jong-un, as successor.

The senior Kim’s health remains a subject of speculation.

Earlier this week, a Japanese news agency reported that he had canceled a meeting with a visiting Indonesian delegation led by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

“And the prospects that he (Jong-un) could be somehow accountable in a next provocation is important to understand as well,” Willard said.

He added that his troops are carefully monitoring the possibility of further nuclear and ballistic missile tests by Pyongyang, especially next year, which the communist regime has declared a self-styled “strong and prosperous” year.

“You suggest that in the nuclearization regime, the prospects of ballistic missile launches or additional nuclear tests could be on the horizon, and we watch these things very carefully and we are concerned, as you suggest, that he will continue to promote his ballistic missile programs as well as his weapon programs,” he said in response to a question.

Willard said the U.S. and South Korea under President Lee Myung-bak are discussing how to respond to future provocations by the North. The commander added South Korea’s stance has become far tougher since the two unprovoked attacks by the North last year.

“The attitude of the South Korean people and the attitude of President Lee’s administration has fundamentally changed,” he said.

“And there is very strong, I think, intolerance at this point for any other additional provocations.”

As to reports that South Korea is seeking to purchase the U.S. Global Hawk surveillance planes, the admiral said the allies are in discussions.

“There are discussions ongoing with regard to surveillance capabilities in the South,” he said. “And I think the United States, as you know, is very guarded about these high-tech capabilities, you know, being provided as a defense article. So that discussion is, in fact, occurring.”

The sale of the cutting-edge aircraft requires congressional approval for a waiver under the Missile Technology Control Regime. (Yonhap News)
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