Panetta Says U.S. Unwavering in Support of South Korea

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2011 — Offi­cials across gov­ern­ment have col­lec­tive­ly con­veyed America’s unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to South Korea, Defense Depart­ment offi­cials said today.

Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta spoke with South Kore­an Defense Min­is­ter Kim Kwan-jin about the death of North Kore­an dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-il in a 15-minute tele­phone call this morn­ing, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary George Lit­tle said.

“The sec­re­tary con­veyed to Mr. Kim the strong com­mit­ment of the Unit­ed States to penin­su­lar sta­bil­i­ty and to our alliance,” he said. “He made it clear that the Unit­ed States stands with Korea in this time of uncer­tain­ty.”

Lit­tle stressed there has been no increase in force pro­tec­tion for U.S. forces in Korea and that there is “no truth” to rumors that U.S. fam­i­lies would be evac­u­at­ed.

No unusu­al mil­i­tary move­ments con­nect­ed with the death of Kim Jong-il have been detect­ed, Lit­tle said. There are 36,000 U.S. ser­vice mem­bers based in South Korea.

The two defense lead­ers agreed that it is crit­i­cal for both coun­tries to remain pru­dent with respect to all mat­ters relat­ed to the secu­ri­ty pos­ture on the penin­su­la. Both promised to con­sult often in the days and weeks ahead.

U.S. offi­cials would not com­ment on an announce­ment from North Kore­an offi­cials that Kim’s son, Kim Jong-eun, will take over the iso­lat­ed coun­try.

“I would­n’t com­ment on the par­tic­u­lars of suc­ces­sion at this stage,” Lit­tle said. “Obvi­ous­ly, we are close­ly mon­i­tor­ing the suc­ces­sion process. The North Kore­ans are in a peri­od of mourn­ing at this point, and that being said, the mil­i­tary does exer­cise a promi­nent role in North Korea, but I would­n’t want to spec­u­late at this stage.”

U.S. and South Kore­an offi­cials believe that a North Kore­an mis­sile test con­duct­ed ear­li­er today was pre-planned and not con­nect­ed to Kim’s death, a senior Pen­ta­gon offi­cial said on back­ground.

Panet­ta was briefed on Kim’s death imme­di­ate­ly after word reached the out­side world last week­end, Lit­tle said. “He has been close­ly mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion ever since,” the press sec­re­tary said. “He has been in con­tact with senior offi­cials here in the depart­ment.”

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

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