PANMUNJOM, South Korea, July 21, 2010 – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to South Korea today during a visit to the demilitarized zone that separates the U.S. ally from its communist neighbor to the north.
The two Cabinet secretaries are in the country to meet with their South Korean counterparts in the first „2-plus-2 Talks“ between the two nations today.
Clinton and Gates looked through binoculars toward North Korea from the Ouellette Observation Post, a sand-bagged hilltop perch manned by U.S. and South Korean soldiers, and visited „T-2,“ a small Military Armistice Commission building painted in United Nations blue that’s half in South Korea and half in North Korea. The building has entrances on both sides, and exists for talks between the North and South.
Gates said this was his third visit to the demilitarized zone, but his first since he was CIA director
„In the nearly 20 years since I last climbed that observation tower and looked out across the DMZ,“ he said, „it is stunning how little has changed up there and yet how much South Korea continues to grow and prosper. The North, by contrast, stagnates in isolation and deprivation. And as we saw with the sinking of the Cheonan, it continues its history of unpredictable and, at times, provocative behavior.“
North Korea’s sinking of the frigate Cheonan killed 46 South Korean sailors in March.
Gates said he and Clinton are in South Korea to demonstrate their appreciation to U.S., South Korean and other forces that work to maintain peace on the peninsula and also „to send a strong signal to the North, to the region and to the world that our commitment to South Korea’s security is steadfast. In fact, our military alliance has never been stronger, and it should deter any potential aggressor.“
Clinton said this was her first visit to the demilitarized zone.
„As we were at the observation post looking out at what is a thin, three-mile separation between the North and the South,“ she said, „it struck me that although it may be a thin line, these two places are worlds apart.
„The Republic of Korea has made extraordinary progress,“ she continued. „It has leaders who care about the well-being of the people. It has an economy that is growing and creating jobs and opportunities. It has a commitment to common values of democracy and freedom. By contrast, the North has not only stagnated in isolation, but the people of the North have suffered for so many years.“
Clinton expressed gratitude to the U.S., South Korean and international forces that have helped to protect South Korea for six decades.
„At the same time,“ she added, „we continue to send a message to the North: ‚There is another way. There is a way that can benefit the people of the North.‘ But until they change direction, the United States stands firmly on behalf of the people and government of the Republic of Korea, where we provide a stalwart defense along with our allies and partners.“ Later, Clinton and Gates attended a ceremony in the South Korean capital of Seoul commemorating the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War before convening with their counterparts – Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and Defense Minister Kim Tae-young — for the 2-plus-2 Talks.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)