Gen. James Thurman, the top American commander in South Korea, Wednesday characterized the current situation on the Korean peninsula as both “volatile” and “dangerous,” saying he’s never seen the region as tense in his two years in the post.
Speaking to ABC New
s, Thurman said his greatest fear is a miscalculation of North Korea’s provocation that will lead to combat. However, he said the United States remains “calm and confident” in its management of the threat.
Thurman currently oversees the 28,500 American servicemen stationed in South Korea and serves as commander of the United Nations Command.
He believes North Korean President Kim Jong Un is trying to impress North Koreans with his tough talk, as well as intimidate both Seoul and the region, something he says he won’t tolerate. Thurman went on to say that because so little is known about Kim, it’s difficult to gauge his true intentions.
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North Korea announced this week that it planned to restart a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon that was closed in 2007, which could be used to create the plutonium necessary for nuclear weapons.
Kim, who has been in power in Pyongyang since his father Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011, has issued several threats against the United States in recent days, leading to speculation about potential military strikes from North Korea.
However, Thurman said that while North Korea has ballistic missiles that could theoretically hit the United States, it has yet to demonstrate intercontinental ballistic missile capability.
“I think they have a long way to go in my assessment,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who told LIGNET he believed the likelihood of North Korea launching an attack was “somewhere between extremely remote and zero.” He said Kim Jung Un was likely testing the United States to see if it will continue its policy of restraint.
“I think, unfortunately, because we’ve acted with tremendous restraint over the past quarter century, we’ve simply taught the North Koreans that they can do these kinds of things with impunity. And now I think we are very much on the edge,” he said.
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