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(LEAD) USFK chief warns against illusions about N. Korea's peace overture

2018/01/04 16:02

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(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with base relocation, other details)

By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Jan. 4 (Yonhap) -- The commanding general of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) on Thursday stressed the importance of combat readiness and unity among regional powers to cope with North Korea's recent peace offensive.

"We can be generally pleased by the recent overtures that happened. But we must keep our expectations at the appropriate level," Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, who leads the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), said at a lecture in Seoul.

He was referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's New Year's Day statement that his country is willing to join the Winter Olympics that will open in the South Korean town of PyeongChang next month. He proposed immediate inter-Korean dialogue to discuss the issue.

Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), speaks in a lecture at Seoul Cyber University on Jan. 4, 2018. (Yonhap) Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), speaks in a lecture at Seoul Cyber University on Jan. 4, 2018. (Yonhap)

In a follow-up move, the two Koreas reconnected a cross-border communication channel Wednesday, two years after it was severed, and are preparing to hold high-level talks.

It represents Pyongyang's "sincere" pursuit of reconciliation, but it may be in line with its typical strategy to keep apart five countries -- South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia -- aimed at weakening their power against the regime trying to win the status of a "nuclear capable" nation.

"We can't ignore that reality," the command emphasized during the session at Seoul Cyber University, organized by the National Unification Advisory Council, a presidential consultative body mainly on long-term inter-Korean ties.

In the face of the North's peace gesture, he said, it's important for South Korea and the U.S. to maintain an "ironclad and razor sharp" alliance and joint combat readiness in the event that it leads to a "negative outcome, not a positive outcome."

   He likened North Korea to the center of a palm and the five regional powers to five fingers, showing his right hand.

The North wants these five fingers to be separated but they should operate in "harmony and closely connected to one another" as a fist to create necessary pressure to cause a change in its course, he added.

As the USFK chief and commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC), Brooks said, his mission is to enable diplomatic and economic actions to create greater pressure on North Korea.

He called President Moon Jae-in and President Donald Trump his "two bosses," adding he is focused on leaving room for them to be able to make the decision they need to make in seeking to find a peaceful and democratic way to resolve the North Korea issue.

Brooks said his troops are trying to "stay ready and stay steady while providing room for diplomacy and economic actions to take effect led by our national leaders," serving shoulder to shoulder with South Korean soldiers.

On the base relocation, he reaffirmed that the USFK headquarters will move to Camp Humphreys, a refurbished U.S. Army base in Pyeongtaek, some 70 kilometers south of Seoul, within this year.

The CFC headquarters, currently in the Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul, will be relocated to the compound of South Korea's Ministry of National Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul, he said.

lcd@yna.co.kr

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