(ATTN: RECASTS 5th para for clarification)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Jan. 4 (Yonhap) -- The commanding general of 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 USFK, said in 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, which open in the South Korean town of PyeongChang next month. He proposed immediate inter-Korean dialogue to discuss the issue.
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.
This may represent Pyongyang's "sincere" pursuit of reconciliation, but it may also be in line with its typical strategy of dividing the five countries -- South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia -- as part of efforts to gain the status of a "nuclear capable" nation, according to the commander.
"We can't ignore that reality," the commander emphasized during the session at Seoul Cyber University, organized by the National Unification Advisory Council, a presidential consultative body that advises mainly on long-term inter-Korean ties.
North Koreans have "estimated that they can hold things at risk increasingly beyond this region. ... Now, it's going beyond the region to a global threat that certainly touches all of the seven alliances of the United States," he pointed out.
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 one.
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 the pressure necessary to change the regime's 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" and added that 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.
He also called for measures to enhance the defense of Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi Province, which together have a population of 25 million and lie no more than 60 kilometers from the heavily-fortified border where the North deploys more than 300 rocket and artillery systems.
"This allows North Korea to create a risk for South Korea and to try to hold this population at risk. And that creates leverage that North Korea can try to use in negotiations and that leverage has to be broken," he said.
That's why a combination of actions is required to improve the defense capability to "decrease the leverage and increase the protection so that we can have an equal discussion table," possibly in the future, he added.
On the subject of base relocation, he reaffirmed that USFK headquarters will move to Camp Humphreys, a refurbished U.S. Army base in Pyeongtaek, 70km south of Seoul, 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 the capital, he said.
It's the first time that a top U.S. military official has confirmed the plan to transfer the high-profile CFC facilities to the area proposed by the Moon Jae-in administration.
The general expected that South Korea will successfully host the Winter Olympics, citing the country's high standards.
"We have to be alert to opportunities, while staying ready throughout the year, ensuring that the alliance is stronger with every day that passes than it was the day before," he said.
He stressed the significance of the allies holding regular joint defense drills but did not mention the possibility of postponing this year's Key Resolve and the Foal Eagle exercises to avoid overlapping with the Olympics.
He wrapped up the lecture by shouting the USFK's motto of "Gatchigapsida!" which translates as "Let's go together!" in English.
BTS-inspired webtoon to be released this week
(URGENT) 1 person recovered from Gwangju construction accident site pronounced dead: officials
(LEAD) Daily infections over 4,000 for 2nd day; imported cases hit record high
Moon expresses condolences over death of pilot in F-5E crash
(LEAD) U.S. reaffirms security commitment to S. Korea following NK missile tests
(2nd LD) N. Korean cargo train arrives in Chinese city of Dandong: sources
(3rd LD) N. Korea says it has succeeded in final test-firing of hypersonic missile
(3rd LD) N. Korea announces firing of 2 train-borne guided missiles into East Sea
(2nd LD) Ruling party's presidential candidate eyes 'de facto' unification with N. Korea
Moon not considering attending Beijing Olympics: Cheong Wa Dae
Man sets himself on fire over feud with international marriage agency
(LEAD) Daily cases back above 4,000 amid omicron woes
(3rd LD) N. Korea says it confirmed accuracy of tactical guided missiles in test-firing
Up to 5cm of snow forecast for Seoul on Wednesday afternoon
(LEAD) N. Korea says it confirmed accuracy of tactical guided missiles in test-firing