Gates Stresses Need to Prevent North Korean Provocations

TOKYO, Jan. 13, 2011 — Pre­vent­ing anoth­er North Korea provo­ca­tion of South Korea is in everyone’s inter­est, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.
In the past year, North Korea tor­pe­doed the South Kore­an ship Cheo­nan, killing 46 sailors, and shelled the island of Yeong­pe­ong, killing two civil­ians and two South Kore­an ser­vice mem­bers.

“Every coun­try has the right to pro­tect itself and defend itself against an unpro­voked attack,” Gates said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at the Japan­ese defense min­istry. “I think the key on the Kore­an penin­su­la, as I dis­cussed in Chi­na and here in Japan, is to pre­vent anoth­er provo­ca­tion from hap­pen­ing.”

The dan­ger of esca­la­tion of force exists, the sec­re­tary said, and the Unit­ed States, Japan, Chi­na and South Korea must work togeth­er to ensure sta­bil­i­ty and peace on the Kore­an penin­su­la.

North Korea has said it is will­ing to nego­ti­ate with South, Gates not­ed, but he added that the Pyongyang gov­ern­ment must demon­strate it will change its behav­ior.

“This requires that the North cease its bel­liger­ent behav­ior, and its provo­ca­tions that have killed inno­cent vic­tims, both mil­i­tary and civil­ian, in Korea,” Gates said. “We are sup­port­ive of nego­ti­a­tions and engage­ment between North and South but there must be con­crete evi­dence on the part of the North that they are seri­ous about these nego­ti­a­tions.” Gates has spo­ken with Chi­nese lead­ers about the sit­u­a­tion on the penin­su­la, and his meet­ings today exam­ined the sub­ject. He will vis­it Seoul tomor­row to talk with South Kore­an lead­ers on the way ahead.

“All four coun­tries have a com­mon inter­est in a peace­ful out­come and sta­bil­i­ty on the penin­su­la, and in each place we’ve talked about how to pur­sue that,” he said.

The sec­re­tary said wants to break the cycle of North Kore­an vio­lence fol­lowed by croc­o­dile tears.

“We have seen this cycle over and over again, and I think the objec­tive we all have in com­mon is how to pre­vent anoth­er provo­ca­tion from tak­ing place. How do we move the process for­ward on the penin­su­la in a way that shows the North Kore­ans are seri­ous about engage­ment, seri­ous about nego­ti­a­tions and that this is not just a repeat of what we have seen so often in the past after a provo­ca­tion of try­ing to re-set the clock back to what it was before?” he said.

In Chi­na, he called for con­crete North Kore­an steps, sug­gest­ing that a mora­to­ri­um on nuclear and mis­sile work would be a good place to start.

Gates met with Japan­ese Prime Min­is­ter Nao­to Kan, For­eign Min­is­ter Sei­ji Mae­hara and Defense Min­is­ter Toshi­mi Kitaza­wa. In addi­tion to North Korea, Gates briefed the men on his vis­it to Bei­jing and meet­ings with Chi­nese lead­ers.

He also dis­cussed the chal­lenges asso­ci­at­ed with China’s grow­ing mil­i­tary strength, the U.S.-Japanese col­lab­o­ra­tion on bal­lis­tic mis­sile defense and in fur­ther­ing U.S.-Japanese coop­er­a­tion in areas such as coun­ter­pira­cy, peace­keep­ing dis­as­ter response, human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and oth­er impor­tant multi­na­tion­al efforts. These efforts include Japan’s sub­stan­tial finan­cial con­tri­bu­tions to Afghanistan.

The meet­ings also cov­ered a dis­cus­sion on new Japan­ese defense pro­gram guide­lines. He called the study “a for­ward-think­ing doc­u­ment that reaf­firms the impor­tance of our alliance, includ­ing the U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence, to Japan’s defense.”

The lead­ers also dis­cussed the U.S.-Japan alliance and its new vision state­ment.

“It has been about five years since the last vision state­ment, and the world and cir­cum­stances in North­east Asia have evolved a good deal since then,” Gates said. “So it is appro­pri­ate to update our alliance at this time.”

The U.S. and Japan­ese lead­ers also dis­cussed the relo­ca­tion of U.S. forces in Oki­nawa.

Gates is sched­uled to make a major speech tomor­row on the U.S‑Japanese alliance at Keio Uni­ver­si­ty before fly­ing to South Korea.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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