The top US commander on the Korean Peninsula has said that "despite a reduction" in tensions with North Korea, there has been "little to no verifiable change" in the country's military capabilities since President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un met for nuclear talks last year.
"I remain clear-eyed about the fact that, despite a reduction in tensions along the DMZ (demilitarized zone) and a cessation of strategic provocations coupled with public statements of intent to denuclearize, little to no verifiable change has occurred in North Korea's military capabilities."
He said that Pyongyang's "conventional and asymmetric capabilities" continued to put the US, South Korea and allies at risk, making it is necessary for the US military to "maintain a postured and ready force to deter any possible aggressive actions".
At the Singapore summit, Trump and Kim signed a joint statement where North Korea pledged to "work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula". At the time, the statement was slammed for failing to include details on how to achieve denuclearization, such as a timeline or steps to verify disarmament.
While the US and South Korea suspended several large joint military drills as part of an effort to ease tensions with Pyongyang following the first Trump-Kim summit, Abrams told lawmakers that he had seen no significant changes in North Korea's own exercises.
"For instance, we are watching the ongoing Korean People's Army winter training cycle, including a slate of full spectrum exercises which is progressing along at historic norms, meaning that we have observed no significant changes to size, scope or timing of their ongoing exercises compared to the same time period over the last four years," he said.
The commander said that the only observable change was a reduction in the attention and bellicosity the regime layers onto its military activities.
"Since the end of 2017, Pyongyang has reduced its hostile rhetoric and halted media coverage of Kim Jong-un's attending capstone events such as large-scale, live-fire training or special operations raids on mock-up alliance targets."
"It is, however, too soon to conclude that a lower profile is indicative of lesser risk," Abrams added.
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