U.S., South Korea Maintain Peninsula Security

SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 27, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta assured senior South Kore­an lead­ers here today that the Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to pro­vide the mil­i­tary forces and capa­bil­i­ties need­ed to main­tain secu­ri­ty on the Kore­an penin­su­la.

Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta, right, and South Kore­an Defense Min­is­ter Kim Kwan-jin par­tic­i­pate in a pass-in-review cer­e­mo­ny at the South Kore­an defense min­istry in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 27, 2011.
DOD pho­to by D. Myles Cullen
Click to enlarge

On the eve of the 43rd annu­al U.S.-South Kore­an Secu­ri­ty Con­sul­ta­tive Meet­ing, Panet­ta, along with Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. James D. Thur­man, com­man­der of U.S. Forces Korea, gave reporters trav­el­ing with the sec­re­tary their views on that rela­tion­ship. Panet­ta said his dis­cus­sions with South Kore­an Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak, Defense Min­is­ter Kim Kwan-jin and For­eign Min­is­ter Kim Sung-hwan, all of which Dempsey and Thur­man also attend­ed, were pro­duc­tive. The sec­re­tary said he assured the South Kore­an lead­ers that U.S. troops will remain in South Korea at unre­duced lev­els “as long as it takes to pro­tect the Repub­lic of Korea.”

“We’re com­mit­ted to strength­en­ing the alliance,” he added, “and we’ll con­tin­ue to pro­vide the forces and the mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties need­ed to main­tain secu­ri­ty on the penin­su­la.”

The Unit­ed States, Panet­ta con­tin­ued, also will ensure the U.S.-South Kore­an alliance main­tains a strong deter­rent pos­ture, includ­ing the U.S. nuclear umbrel­la, “so that North Korea nev­er mis­judges our will and capac­i­ty to respond deci­sive­ly to aggres­sion.”

North Korea’s pur­suit of nuclear weapons and advanced mis­sile capa­bil­i­ties con­tin­ues to defy the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, the sec­re­tary said.

“Despite the provo­ca­tions, we have and will con­tin­ue to reach out diplo­mat­i­cal­ly. In the words of Ted­dy Roo­sevelt, we will speak soft­ly but car­ry a big stick,” he said.

“North Korea can behave, as we all know, in very unpre­dictable ways,” Panet­ta said, not­ing his South Kore­an coun­ter­parts told him today that 200 North Kore­an cit­i­zens are “stuck in Libya” because the regime in Pyongyang believes they would spread to the North Kore­an peo­ple the news of Moam­mar Gadhafi’s death and Libya’s lib­er­a­tion.

U.S. and North Kore­an diplo­mats’ meet­ings held in Gene­va this week pro­duced a nar­row­ing of dif­fer­ences, State Depart­ment offi­cials said, but they result­ed in no break­throughs, and sig­nif­i­cant issues remain.

North Korea’s nuclear ambi­tions remain a con­cern, Panet­ta said. Expe­ri­ence, he not­ed, indi­cates that skep­ti­cism is appro­pri­ate in the face of the North Kore­ans’ cur­rent accom­mo­dat­ing pos­ture.

“We always have to be vig­i­lant in the way we approach North Korea, because there is a his­to­ry here of accom­mo­da­tion and provo­ca­tion,” the sec­re­tary said. “There are peri­ods when we’re hope­ful we might be able to achieve some diplo­mat­ic progress in elim­i­nat­ing their nucleariza­tion pro­gram. Then, for what­ev­er rea­son, we’re not suc­cess­ful, and sud­den­ly we enter a peri­od of provo­ca­tion.”

The Unit­ed States must pro­ceed under the hope that North Korea ulti­mate­ly will “do the right thing” and take steps to improve the lives of its peo­ple, the sec­re­tary said. But, he added, the U.S. also must real­ize that North Korea is like­ly to keep seek­ing to increase its nuclear capa­bil­i­ty.

For that rea­son, the sec­re­tary said, the Unit­ed States and South Korea must always main­tain a strong alliance to demon­strate they will not allow North Korea to threat­en the penin­su­la.

Panet­ta said it some­times appears that Chi­na is urg­ing North Korea to give up its nuclear pro­gram and engage with oth­er nations. Yet, he added, Chi­na could be still more help­ful in the process.

“Frankly, I think Chi­na could do more. … They are in a posi­tion where they can influ­ence what can hap­pen in North Korea,” Panet­ta said. “Some­times North Korea does­n’t pay atten­tion. The hope is [Chi­na] will con­tin­ue to push North Korea to … do the right things.”

Thur­man said U.S. and South Kore­an forces on the penin­su­la are well aware of the seri­ous­ness of their task. The two mil­i­taries form a tru­ly com­bined force for the alliance, the gen­er­al said.

“We’ve got a degree of trans­paren­cy where we’re con­stant­ly in con­sul­ta­tion,” Thur­man said. “Main­tain­ing a high degree of readi­ness is essen­tial to deter­ring provo­ca­tions.”

Dur­ing today’s meet­ings, Panet­ta said, he also thanked the South Kore­an lead­ers for their troop con­tri­bu­tions in Afghanistan, where their troops are serv­ing “with hon­or and dis­tinc­tion.”

The meet­ings also touched on the U.S. government’s desire to see South Korea increase its par­tic­i­pa­tion in non­pro­lif­er­a­tion efforts and inter­dic­tion exer­cis­es, he said.

Top­ics also includ­ed the bilat­er­al effort to relo­cate U.S. troops from Yongsan Gar­ri­son in Seoul to Camp Humphreys in Pyeong­taek, Panet­ta said, and the need to work close­ly to ensure that move is com­plet­ed on sched­ule by 2015.

Panet­ta and Dempsey will take part tomor­row in ses­sions of the 43rd Secu­ri­ty Con­sul­ta­tive Meet­ing. The meet­ing is an annu­al con­fer­ence of U.S. and South Korea gov­ern­ment defense del­e­ga­tions.

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

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