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John J. Kruzel - American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 26, 2010 - The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific region yesterday expressed hope that North Korea would resume six-party talks aimed at addressing the country's nuclear program.
Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said the United States and other parties involved -- China, Japan, Russia and South Korea -- have encouraged North Korea to rejoin the forum it abandoned last year.
"At the end of the day," Willard said, "the choice to re-enter into six-party [talks] or not has been a North Korean refusal."
The North Korean government in Pyongyang backed out of talks last spring after receiving widespread international condemnation for conducting a missile launch in April, which it followed with a second nuclear test.
Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, Willard said provocations by North Korea raise fears that it continues to proliferate weapons of mass destruction.
"The potential proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or the proliferation of the delivery systems represented by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1784, are an example of concerns that we have that North Korea has in the past and may continue to be a proliferator," he said.
"The provocations that we encountered through the sequence of missile tests that occurred last year are another example of the actions that we take in this ballistic-missile defense area to deal with North Korea and the instability that this regime represents," he added.
Willard commented on the increased efforts by China to bring North Korea back to the bargaining table.
"I think we're convinced that the Chinese are committed to the denuclearization of North Korea, as we are, and they have made efforts -- increasing efforts, I think, over the past year -- to exert their influence over North Korea," he said.
While the interested parties remain hopeful for renewed talks, Willard said, the United States continues watching threats emanating from Pyongyang, including the recent ramping up of its naval forces and dubious economic moves.
"We watch closely for provocations emanating out of North Korea," Willard said. "We have watched a small naval buildup and issues that are occurring in the West Sea area over the past several weeks."
The United States also has been interested to watch the consequence of currency devaluation in North Korea and the effects of such economic manipulation.
"And obviously we watch over Kim Jong Il's health and the succession issues that we've no doubt discussed before," he said, referring to the North Korean leader who reportedly is in failing health.
Appearing alongside Willard at the hearing was Gen. Walter "Skip" Sharp, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, who echoed Willard's comments in urging North Korea to resume talks.
"We highly encourage Kim Jong Il to come back to the six-party talks," Sharp said. "It is the way that I think that he has the opportunity to be able to stop the downward spiral that has happened in North Korea over the last several years."
President Barack Obama repeatedly called on North Korea to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible.
"North Korea has a choice: It can continue down the path of confrontation and provocation that has led to less security, less prosperity, and more isolation from the global community," Obama said in November, "or it can choose to become a full member of the international community, which will give a better life to its people by living up to international obligations and foregoing nuclear weapons."