"Though we've always said that North Korea has been a bit opaque to us, in the past we've understood their leadership and the influencers a little better than we do today," he said. "And so the extent to which this cycle (of provocation) is a little more unpredictable, it's because of him. We know less about him. But the pattern is very similar."
Dempsey said that in preparation for a trip to Beijing in a few weeks, he recently spoke by phone to his Chinese counterpart about the North Korea problem, among others, and that this will be on the agenda when he makes his first visit as Joint Chiefs chairman.
"What I'm not going to do is go over there and deliver the traditional talking point of: 'You need to get your southern neighbor under control,'" he said, adding that it's pretty clear China cannot compel North Korea to act differently.
"I would rather take the opportunity to gain a little deeper understanding of what are the Chinese issues" with the North Koreans, he said.
Follow Robert Burns on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/robertburnsAP
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.