SEOUL-- The chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) urged North Korea on Thursday to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, saying they have emerged as a threat not only to the region but also to cities around the world.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized the importance of sanctions in all possible options to induce the North to change its behavior, saying any military conflict will be a "catastrophe."

"My message to North Korea is that they have to abandon their nuclear and missile programs, refrain from further tests and make sure that they denuclearize the Korean Peninsula," Stoltenberg said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

"To achieve this, we need pressure. We need political, diplomatic and not least, economic pressure on North Korea."

The NATO chief said that the purpose of sanctions and pressure should be to bring the North out for "real" and "constructive" talks, expressing his support for the Moon Jae-in government's dual-track approach towards Pyongyang.

"For me there is no contradiction between pressure and dialogue. Actually the purpose of pressure is to enable change and dialogue," he said. "So it's not either pressure or dialogue. It's pressure and dialogue, so there will be change in their behavior."

Stoltenberg arrived in Seoul Wednesday for talks on ways to boost NATO's bilateral cooperation with South Korea and their joint efforts to rein in North Korea.

His visit marks the second-ever trip to South Korea by a secretary general of the military alliance organization between North American and European countries.

"It's not the easiest way but if we compare that with the alternative to do nothing or to engage in military operations, I think pressure -- political, diplomatic and economic pressure -- is the best way forward," he added.

He praised China and Russia for their recent support for strengthening sanctions on the North, including restrictions of oil imports from the North, but still underlined the need for them to do more, saying that they have "special" responsibility.

"I strongly believe that China and Russia have a special role or special responsibility because China and Russia are permanent members of the Security Council," he said.

"Moreover, China and Russia are neighboring countries (of the North), which means they have a special role to play when it comes to implementing the sanctions... This is an area where we need their full support to make sure the sanctions are implemented," he added.

Source: Yonhap News Agency