Top U.S. General Calls North Korean Missile Tests A Threat To Seoul

Sunday, July 1st 2007, 8:09 pm
By: News On 6

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ The top U.S. military commander in South Korea on Monday criticized last week's missile test launches by North Korea, saying the country remains a threat despite its recent moves toward dismantling its nuclear program.

Gen. B.B. Bell said he welcomed Pyongyang's efforts to live up to a February commitment to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, part of a program he called ``extremely provocative.''

But he also noted the communist country still retains the capability to attack Seoul with conventional artillery and special forces. ``This is a very real threat which cannot be ignored,'' he told reporters at the National Press Club in Seoul.

Last week, North Korea test-fired three surface-to-surface missiles that landed in the North's territorial waters, according to Defense Department officials. It was the third time in a month that North Korea has test-fired a short-range missile, following launches 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 the reason North Korea continues to conduct such missile launches, but questioned why the country chose to do so while officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, 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.''

Also last week, North Korea said it would move to carry out a promise made in the February agreement with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. to shut down and seal the Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Pyongyang also allowed U.N. inspectors to visit the facility.

Bell described North Korea's nuclear weapons program as ``extremely provocative, threatening and dangerous to the citizen's of South Korea as well as to free men and women worldwide.''

North Korea carried out its first nuclear test explosion in October last year.

``We are all very hopeful that the North Koreans will live up to the agreement they have made,'' to dismantle the program, Bell said.

The United States stations 29,500 U.S. troops in South Korea as a deterrent against 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.