Nordkorea/Südkorea — South Korea Must Determine Attack Response, Gates Says

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2010 — It is up to South Korea, not the Unit­ed States, to deter­mine how it will deal with a North Kore­an attack on one of its ships, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said today.

Gates was asked by reporters at a Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence whether a recent deter­mi­na­tion that North Korea sank the South Kore­an frigate Cheo­nan, killing 46 sailors on March 26, was an act of war. 

“This was an attack on South Korea, and South Korea needs to be in the lead on the way for­ward,” he said. 

Gates said the Defense Depart­ment sup­ports the find­ings of a mul­ti­lat­er­al inves­ti­ga­tion into the attack that found a North Kore­an sub­ma­rine fired a tor­pe­do that sank the ship. “They’ve laid out some paths for­ward, and we will be con­sult­ing close­ly with them as they move forward.” 

The mil­i­tary has not changed its nor­mal readi­ness sta­tus in light of the find­ings, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the news con­fer­ence. Mullen said he spoke with his South Kore­an coun­ter­part yes­ter­day, as well as with Navy Adm. Robert Willard, com­man­der of U.S. Pacif­ic Com­mand, and Army Gen. Wal­ter “Skip” Sharp, com­man­der of U.S. Forces Korea. 

“We’re all focused on the sta­bil­i­ty of that region,” Mullen said. “Cer­tain­ly, we’re con­cerned. They are a great friend and a great ally.” 

Asked if U.S. forces are stretched too thin to increase oper­a­tions in the area if need­ed, Gates said “absolute­ly not.” 

“We’ve known for a long time that if there were prob­lems in Korea, our main arms would be the Navy and the Air Force, and they are not stretched the way the Army and Marines are.” Gates and Mullen also took ques­tions on sev­er­al oth­er hot spots around the world. 

Asked about the lat­est NATO mil­i­tary cam­paign in Afghanistan, Mullen said the Kan­da­har cam­paign already is under way, and that lead­ers are not sur­prised at the increas­ing insur­gent vio­lence there. 

“We expect this to be a tough year,” Mullen said. “The pop­py sea­son is over, and they’ve gone back to get their weapons. That vio­lence would rise does­n’t sur­prise me at all.” The admi­ral added that he is opti­mistic about the Kan­da­har out­come. “We’ve got the right strat­e­gy and the right lead­er­ship,” he said. 

Turn­ing to Pak­istan, Gates and Mullen said Pak­istani lead­ers are ful­ly on board with fight­ing ter­ror­ist groups in the coun­try, and rec­og­nize they share that inter­est with the Unit­ed States. Pak­istan is plan­ning to exe­cute a mis­sion in the volatile North Waziris­tan region, and has sev­en divi­sions and 140,000 troops there, they said. 

“We now have a mutu­al inter­est in try­ing to stop this group, to stop them from car­ry­ing out attacks out­side of Pak­istan, espe­cial­ly in the Unit­ed States,” Gates said. 

On Iraq, Gates said the mil­i­tary is on track to com­plete Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s plan to reduce troop strength there to 50,000 by Sept. 1. Some of the draw­down was post­poned due to the delayed nation­al elec­tion in March, but, Army Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no, com­man­der of U.S. Forces Iraq, “has total flex­i­bil­i­ty” with how he wants to man­age it, he said. Asked about the recount of Iraq’s elec­tion results, Gates said it was “a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment, in that it reaf­firmed the orig­i­nal count and the legit­i­ma­cy of the election.” 

Final­ly, on the Unit­ed Nations res­o­lu­tion for sanc­tions against Iran, Gates said it is “some­what stronger” than he expect­ed. The res­o­lu­tion is impor­tant, he said, because it is a reminder of Iran’s iso­la­tion, and it pro­vides a legal plat­form for coun­tries and orga­ni­za­tions such as the Euro­pean Union to take more strin­gent actions of their own against Iran. There is evi­dence that the res­o­lu­tion is mak­ing an impact inside Iran, Gates said, not­ing the extent to which Iran is try­ing to keep it from pass­ing. The res­o­lu­tion, cou­pled with any action by indi­vid­ual coun­tries, “has the abil­i­ty to change behav­ior” in the Iran­ian gov­ern­ment, he said. 

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

Team GlobDef

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