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North Korea threatens, but can't win a war, U.S. Pacific commander says


TOKYO -- Following a series of reports of a bellicose North Korea being able to quickly sweep through South Korea, the head of U.S. military forces in Asia stopped in Tokyo yesterday to deliver a blunt message.

"There is not a victory option for the North," said Adm. Charles Larson, commander in chief of Pacific Forces. He said the threat to South Korea has increased significantly within the past year because of North Korea's addition of heavy artillery and "Scud" missiles within range of Seoul. Efforts by North Korea to develop long-range missiles and nuclear weapons endanger Japan as well, he said.

But Admiral Larson emphatically asserted that joint U.S. and South Korean military capabilities would be sufficient to blunt any attack, and he added that U.S. strategy included contingency planning if North Korea acquired nuclear arms.

"A war between the North and South would be very costly," Admiral Larson said. "It would be very costly in the way of human lives, and we certainly want to avoid that at any opportunity. However, let me be very clear: The South would win."

A recent report in Newsweek, citing a classified 1991 military computer simulation, concluded that a surprise attack by the North Korean ground forces already massed at the southern border could overwhelm South Korea in two weeks.

Admiral Larson said he had not seen the results of the simulation but added, "The data is considerably different now. . . . Certainly you would have a different outcome in the real world."

Admiral Larson said, however, that "the threat to South Korea has developed reasonably significantly over the last year."

He noted North Korea's deployment of sophisticated artillery and rockets along the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas. With South Korea's capital, Seoul, only 40 miles from the zone, the city would face missile attacks if war erupted, he said.

North Korea's refusal to allow international inspections of one of its nuclear facilities has raised suspicions it is building nuclear weapons.

U.S. diplomats have been trying to persuade North Korea to agree to inspections required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a 1968 accord aimed at checking the spread of nuclear weapons technology.

Self-isolated North Korea says it is only developing nuclear power and has threatened to leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty if talks with Washington collapse and international sanctions are imposed.

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