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Pyongyang‘s leadership change poses “even greater” security challenges: U.S. commander

Feb. 10, 2012 - 13:34 By Korea Herald
WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) -- The nominee to head U.S. troops in the Asia-Pacific area said Thursday that North Korea’s leadership change adds to regional security concerns on top of the possibility of the communist regime using weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

“In fact, with the uncertainties associated with the ongoing leadership transition, upcoming challenges on the Peninsula may be even greater,” Adm. Samuel Locklear said at a Senate confirmation hearing.

If confirmed, he will replace Adm. Robert Willard, currently commanding the 325,000-strong U.S. Pacific Command that has become more vital in the U.S. defense strategy, which is making a “pivot” toward Asia.

“North Korea‘s potential use of WMD presents a serious threat,” he added. The North conducted two nuclear tests and is apparently developing long-range missiles.

Kim Jong-il, a long-time ruler of the secretive nation, died of heart attack in December and Pyongyang declared his son, Jong-un, reportedly in his late 20s, as successor.

“On the surface, North Korea appears stable, and Kim Jong-un and his leadership is primarily focused on domestic matters,” Locklear said.

“However, enduring U.S. and allied concerns -- North Korea’s past provocative behavior, large conventional military, proliferation activities, and pursuit of asymmetric advantages through its ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs, including uranium enrichment -- presents a serious threat to the United States, our allies and partners in the region and the international community.”