Admiral says North Korea aiming to reunify Korean Peninsula

WASHINGTON — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's long-term goal is to reunify the divided Korean Peninsula under his totalitarian government, the senior U.S. Navy officer overseeing military operations in the Pacific told lawmakers Wednesday.

Adm. Harry Harris Jr. said during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee there's a prevailing view that Kim needs a nuclear arsenal to safeguard his regime. But Harris says Kim is after much more.

"I think we are self-limiting if we view North Korea's nuclear ambitions as solely a means to safeguard his regime," said Harris, who leads U.S. Pacific Command. "I do think that he is after reunification under a single communist system. So he's after what his grandfather failed to do and his father failed to do and he's on a path to achieve what he feels is his natural place."

Kim's father and grandfather were the late North Korean rulers Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.

Harris also said North Korea's advancing nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs put "him in a position to blackmail the South and other countries in the region and us."

The testimony from Harris, an officer who's been in uniform for nearly 40 years and speaks bluntly, came as athletes from North Korea are participating in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The games led to a remarkable moment of reconciliation between the rivals but their decades-long animosities could easily erupt again after the Olympics.

Harris called North Korea's Olympic delegation, which included Kim's sister Kim Yo Jong, a "charm offensive." He said it behooves the U.S. and South Korea "not to be charmed" by Pyongyang and to consider North Korea "for the regime it is and to deal with it on the basis of fact, not charm."

Top U.S. intelligence officials on Tuesday delivered their latest threat assessment, telling the Senate Intelligence Committee that the risk of conflict with North Korea is higher today than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Their wide-ranging intelligence report also said North Korea will likely conduct more missile tests this year and not negotiate away its nuclear capabilities.

Vice President Mike Pence, who was in Pyeongchang for the start of the Olympics, said the U.S. is open for talks without preconditions with North Korea, a subtle shift in White House policy. But diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang won't start unless Kim Jong Un wants it to.

Harris insisted that any future talks with Pyongyang "must be focused on achieving a complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." But he didn't advocate a change in U.S. policy, telling the committee that the State Department's campaign to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear program is "what we should be doing."

The admiral said China, which is North Korea's main trading partner, "can and should do more" as part of the pressure campaign. Harris also criticized Russia's "limited contributions."

He said China and Russia host 75 percent of the roughly 80,000 North Korean "guest workers" employed abroad. These workers are allowed to leave the country but must send most of what they earn back to the government's coffers in Pyongyang. The U.S. has been urging countries not to host the workers as part of a broader effort to cut off the cash North Korea needs to finance its nuclear program.

Harris has led U.S. Pacific Command since May 2015. President Donald Trump announced last week that he was nominating Harris to be U.S. ambassador to Australia. The post requires Senate confirmation.

___

Contact Richard Lardner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/rplardner

Must Read

'American Crime Story' writers focusing on Hurricane Katrina

Aug 10, 2016

An executive producer behind 'American Crime Story,' the anthology series for FX, says they're taking 'great care' with casting of the season which will focus on Hurricane Katrina

House Speaker Paul Ryan wins GOP nomination to run again

Aug 10, 2016

House Speaker Paul Ryan has defeated a longshot Republican primary challenger who had been praised by Donald Trump

Beyond 'Obamacare': State initiatives refocus health debate

Aug 9, 2016

Political activists are looking to state ballot questions to move beyond "Obamacare" and refocus the nation's long-running debate over government's role in health care

People also read these

Turkish, Russian officials to discuss solution for Syria

Aug 10, 2016

Turkey's foreign minister says Turkish foreign ministry, military and intelligence officials will travel to Russia for discussions on finding a solution to the Syria conflict

RNC hires strategists to help woo African-American voters

Aug 9, 2016

The Republican National Committee has hired three new strategists to help increase its outreach to black voters, including Ashley D. Bell as its new senior strategist and national director of African-American engagement

Trump ignites new firestorm: Gun backers might stop Clinton

Aug 10, 2016

Donald Trump sets off a fresh political firestorm by suggesting gun rights supporters might find a way to stop Hillary Clinton if she's elected and nominates anti-gun Supreme Court justices

Weather, 20 December
Houston Weather
+7

High: +11° Low: -2°

Humidity: 83%

Wind: NNE - 7 KPH

Canberra Weather
+27

High: +27° Low: +17°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: W - 20 KPH

Roissy-en-France Weather
+6

High: +6° Low: -5°

Humidity: 87%

Wind: ENE - 7 KPH

Florence Weather
+9

High: +9° Low: +6°

Humidity: 97%

Wind: ENE - 17 KPH

Parga Weather
+7

High: +16° Low: +4°

Humidity: 100%

Wind: SE - 25 KPH