A U.S. military commander was quoted as saying by the regional media on Thursday that North Korea's nuclear weapons have been the principal "operational target" for U.S. marines, stationed in Japan's Okinawa.
Concerns over stability of the reclusive regime, which possesses nuclear weapons, have deepened since the reports of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il's ailing health surfaced in 2008 and severe food shortages hit the country following economic sanctions against Pyongyang for its nuclear and missile tests.
"[U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific Commander Lieutenant General Keith] Stalder reportedly said that the odds of a Kim Jong-il regime collapse are higher than an inter-Korean clash and that in the case of a collapse, swift removal of its nuclear weapons is the Marine Corps' most critical task," South Korea's international broadcaster, KBS World, said.
Japan's Mainichi Shimbun daily said Stalder made the statement during the meeting with a Japanese defense official at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on February 17.
However, the official transcript of Stalder's February speech at the embassy contains no such statements.
"Some recent press stories in the U.S. claim that the Marines are on Okinawa primarily to prepare to fight in Korea. That assertion is of course untrue. Okinawa Marines train to respond to dozens of different emergencies and contingencies," the statement, available on the website of the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, says.
In a recent statement, Pyongyang threatened to boost its nuclear capability in response to what it considered "continuing U.S. military threats and provocations," referring to joint annual exercises conducted by the U.S. and S. Korean military near its borders.
MOSCOW, April 1 (RIA Novosti)