By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, March 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korea will continue to be the "most immediate threat" to the United States until it agrees to full denuclearization, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said Wednesday.
Adm. Phil Davidson also said the North continues to develop its ballistic missiles despite its ongoing moratorium on long-range missile testing.
"Until the nuclear situation is resolved on the Korean Peninsula and Kim Jong-un agrees to complete denuclearization, North Korea will remain our most immediate threat to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific," Davidson said in a webinar hosted by the Institute for Corean-American Studies.
The highest ranking U.S. military officer in the Indo-Pacific joined the virtual seminar from his base in Hawaii.
"Indeed, a nuclear free North Korea benefits all nations in the region, and we are working with allies and partners to denuclearize North Korea," he added.
Pyongyang has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing since November 2017 in a prelude to leader Kim's three bilateral meetings with Donald Trump that began with the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore in June 2018.
The U.S. admiral said the North could restart its military provocations at any time.
"And despite the relatively calm period over the past year or so, North Korea continues to develop its ballistic missile capability and can start a provocation cycle at any moment if KJU believed that North Korea would benefit," said Davidson, referring to the North Korean leader.
Davidson said the combined forces of South Korea and the United States remain ready to address any such aggression from North Korea.
"Additionally, we are fully committed to the United Nations Security Council resolution operations as part of the global effort to prevent ship-to-ship transfers of oil between North Korean and other vessels that are violating UN sanctions against North Korea," he added.
With regard to the planned transfer of the wartime operation control of South Korean troops to Seoul, the Indo-Pacific commander said the transition will take place when all conditions agreed by the allies are fully met.
"The conditions basis for a transfer of operational control (that) has been agreed to by our two nations ... in my view is absolutely necessary to ensure the security of our two nations," he said.
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