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US Commander 'Suspects' N. Korea Will Test Another Nuclear Bomb

The commander of the U.S. forces in South Korea says it is probably a question of when, not if, North Korea will test a second nuclear device. He also says the 28,000 U.S. military personnel who stand ready to defend South Korea from the North deserve better consideration from policymakers in Seoul. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from the South Korean capital.

U.S. General Burwell Bell told reporters Tuesday he thinks North Korea will some day stage a repeat performance of last October's test of a nuclear explosive.

"There is no reason to believe that at some time in the future, when it serves their purposes, that they won't test another one," he said. "So I suspect some day they will."

He did not discuss recent news media reports that there are indications that the North Koreans may be preparing to hold a second test soon.

Bell commands about 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea. The alliance between Washington and Seoul is designed to deter North Korea from repeating its 1950 invasion of the South. Fighting in the Korean War was halted three years later only by a temporary armistice still in effect today.

Many military experts say North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons throws off the military balance in North Asia.

The communist government in Pyongyang says it needs nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. invasion. Bell said Tuesday the United States has no intention of attacking the North, but adds U.S. and South Korean forces will proceed as scheduled with coming joint drills.

Bell also criticized South Korean officials Tuesday for delaying the scheduled relocation of the main U.S. military base. The troops are being moved from Seoul to a base about 70 kilometers south of the capital.

"Now, we agreed back in 2004 to get this done by 2008," he noted. "The problem is, pretty quick in the future all that's going to stop, all that could stop, because of fiscal, money constraints or political decisions, and I will fight this."

South Korean officials say the relocation is not likely to happen before 2012. Bell describes himself as "fairly emotional" about the issue, saying U.S. soldiers deserve better living conditions than the present ones he describes as "lousy."

Despite assurances from both the United States and South Korea that their alliance is strong, some regional experts say there is friction over changing global conditions and diverging strategies on how to deal with North Korea.