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Posted : 2013-04-03 20:59
Updated : 2013-04-03 20:59

Tension climbing to unprecedented level: USFK chief

By Kim Tae-gyu

Gen. James Thurman
Gen. James Thurman, commander of the United States Forces Korea (USFK), said Wednesday that the current situation on the Korean Peninsula is unprecedentedly volatile and dangerous.

Thurman, concurrently the commander of the United Nations Command here, said he worries about a worst-case scenario in which the North's elite, including its leader Kim Jong-un, could make erroneous calculations and ill-fated provocations.

His remarks came a day after the North vowed to reactivate its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, some 90 kilometers north of Pyongyang, where it could produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Through the announcement, the North scrapped an international agreement reached on Oct. 3, 2007, through six-party talks, which include the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

In an interview with ABC News, Thurman said his greatest fear is of a "miscalculation" that could cause "a kinetic provocation."

Thurman added that the relentless verbal attacks from the North are mostly aimed at strengthening his own political power inside the Stalinist state.

However, he said that Kim is also trying to intimidate South Koreans. "We've got to take every threat seriously," he said.

Asked whether Seoul would respond militarily to any aggression from the bellicose North, Thurman answered yes.

"I believe they will because we have the right to protect ourselves. And again we're not going to let the North Koreans intimidate us," he said.

President Park Geun-hye ordered officials earlier this week to overwhelm any provocations made by the regime in Pyongyang with immediate and proactive counterattacks, saying she trusts the military's decision makers.

A nuclear test on Feb. 18 by the North led to further U.N. sanctions and, in response, the regime there ratcheted up its rhetoric. It threatened to launch preemptive nuclear attacks on the U.S. while turning Seoul into a "sea of fire."

It announced unilaterally it had ended the 60-year-old armistice agreed at the end of the Korean War (1950-53) and said last Saturday that it had entered a "state of war" with the South.

Thurman heads a 28,000-strong American military presence in South Korea.

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