Mullen Underscores U.S. Commitment, Praises South Korean Restraint

SEOUL, South Korea, Dec. 8, 2010 — Fol­low­ing what he called “a very full day of mean­ing­ful dis­cus­sions” today with South Kore­an lead­ers, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff con­demned North Korea’s acts of aggres­sion and praised South Korea for demon­strat­ing restraint to keep it from esca­lat­ing.
Mullen and Gen­er­al Han Min-goo, chair­man of the South Kore­an mil­i­tary, also announced fol­low­ing their con­sul­ta­tive meet­ing that they had agreed to strength­en their joint efforts to deter fur­ther provo­ca­tions and war.

The lead­ers con­demned North Korea’s Nov. 23 “delib­er­ate and ille­gal armed attack” on Yeon­pyeong island. 

Mullen not­ed that the attack, which killed two marines and two civil­ians, brings to 50 the num­ber of South Kore­ans killed this year at North Kore­an hands. Forty-six South Kore­an sailors were killed March 26 when a North Kore­an tor­pe­do sunk the South Kore­an frigate Cheo­nan. “Rather than meet bel­liger­ence in kind, you chose to meet it with restraint and readi­ness,” Mullen told Han. “The poise you have demon­strat­ed befits the true strength of your posi­tion and the char­ac­ter of your people.” 

Mullen empha­sized, how­ev­er, that North Korea “should not mis­take this restraint for lack of resolve” or a sign of South Korea’s “will­ing­ness to accept con­tin­ue attacks to go unchallenged.” 

Han said North Korea’s provo­ca­tions have become increas­ing­ly bold and he fore­sees a sit­u­a­tion that could require “an alliance-lev­el response.” He said he and Mullen dis­cussed plans that would pro­vide “an instan­ta­neous and very firm response” to a pos­si­ble future attack. Joint exer­cis­es last week off the peninsula’s west coast improved inter­op­er­abil­i­ty between the U.S. and South Kore­an mil­i­taries, Mullen said, while also send­ing North Korea “a strong sig­nal of our intent to deter future acts of aggression.” 

Mullen, respond­ing to a reporter’s ques­tion, said South Korea, as a sov­er­eign nation, “has every right to pro­tect its peo­ple and to respond as it sees fit to effec­tive­ly car­ry out that responsibility.” 

“They also have the right to choose the method with which they respond,” he said. How­ev­er, Mullen empha­sized that the true goal of the U.S.-South Kore­an alliance is to pro­vide a deter­rence that would make such retal­i­a­tion unnec­es­sary. The chair­man praised Han for his lead­er­ship dur­ing “dif­fi­cult times” in build­ing the capa­bil­i­ties required to pro­vide that deter­rent effect. 

“Your readi­ness to defend your ter­ri­to­ry and your cit­i­zens is unmis­tak­able, and my country’s com­mit­ment to help­ing you do that is unques­tioned,” he said. Mullen rec­og­nized that the Unit­ed States has stood at South Korea’s side for the last six decades and told the South Kore­ans that Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma had sent assur­ances that “we will be at your side for many more.” 

Today’s talks with Han, Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor Chun Yung-woo, Defense Min­is­ter Kim Kwan-jin and 1st Vice Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs and Trade Shin Kak-soo took “a long-term view” of the alliance to ensure near-term actions are guid­ed by the Strate­gic Alliance 2015 frame­work enact­ed in Octo­ber, Mullen said. The talks also cen­tered on “ensur­ing our plans, train­ing and exer­cis­es are focused on full-spec­trum oper­a­tions to deter, and if nec­es­sary, defeat, a rapid­ly evolv­ing threat,” he said. 

“That is why I am here today, quite frankly, to address those chal­lenges togeth­er, to explore new ways we can over­come them, togeth­er, and to reaf­firm America’s resolve to ensur­ing togeth­er with South Korea our mutu­al secu­ri­ty objec­tives on the penin­su­la and in the region,” he said. 

Mullen said he looks for­ward to work­ing with Army Gen. Wal­ter “Skip” Sharp, the top U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cer in South Korea, as he works with his South Kore­an coun­ter­parts to devel­op spe­cif­ic plans and exer­cis­es sup­port­ing these goals. 

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

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