The commander of US forces in South Korea has said he has seen “little to no verifiable change” in North Korea’s military capabilities, just weeks away from a second summit between Donald Trump and regime leader Kim Jong-un.
General Robert Abrams, the new head of US Forces Korea, said last year’s summit between the two leaders had helped reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula, but had not led to substantive changes.
Trump and Kim met in June last year in a bid to resolve tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear program, and the two signed off on a vaguely-worded document in which Kim pledged to work towards “the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.
After the first summit, Trump tweeted that “there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea” and that “everybody can now feel much safer”.
Abrams told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday: “Little to no verifiable change has occurred and North Korea’s military capabilities and that North Korea was continuing its winter military training at historic norms.
“Further, North Korea’s conventional and asymmetric military capabilities along with their continued development of advanced conventional systems remains unchecked. These capabilities continue to hold the United States, the Republic of Korea and our regional allies at risk.”
Trump and Kim are set to meet in Hanoi on 27 and 28 February for a second summit.
Abrams noted that it had been 440 days since North Korea’s last “provocative action” and credited diplomatic efforts and international sanctions for leading to a “significant reduction in tension”.
Despite the bonhomie of Kim and Trump’s first meeting, progress has since stalled with the two sides disagreeing over what Kim’s pledge means.
Analysts say tangible progress on denuclearisation will be needed if the talks are to avoid being dismissed as “reality TV”.
After that first summit, Trump called off large-scale joint exercises with South Korea.
Abrams said “it is necessary to maintain a postured and ready force to deter any possible aggressive actions,” but stressed that the two allied militaries continue to train together at a lower level.