By Jack Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea shows no sign of giving up its pursuit of nuclear weapons and remains a threat to the South, the top U.S. military official said Thursday, urging China to lean on its ally to exercise restraint.
"North Korea shows no signs of relenting in pursuit of its nuclear capabilities, and I'm not convinced that they won't provoke again," Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a visit to the South.
"I've said for a long time that the only thing predictable about North Korea is their unpredictability."
Mullen attended the change of command of about 30,000 U.S. troops stationed in the South to General James Thurman from outgoing commander General Walter Sharp.
"(The) expectation at least from my perspective, that unless the leadership in the North is deterred, they will continue to do that," Mullen said, referring to the sinking of a South Korean navy ship and the bombing of an island last year.
Mullen, who was in Beijing earlier, said that Chinese military leaders agreed it was important to maintain stability in North Korea. Most experts and officials believe the North Korean regime is not at risk of collapse.
But they say there are signs of discontent as the North tries to continue dynastic rule by working on succession of power from current leader Kim Jong-il to his youngest known son, Jong-un.
Mullen said the North's aggressive behavior toward South Korea may be linked to the succession process underway in Pyongyang.
"We have a sense of urgency to essentially work on planning to deter the North from further provocations. Whether they will be deterred or not, that's to be seen."
(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)