USA/South Korea — Clinton, Gates Reaffirm U.S. Commitment to South Korea

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.

Observation Point Ouellette
Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton and Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates look out over North Korea from Obser­va­tion Point Ouel­lette dur­ing a tour at the Demil­i­ta­rized Zone that sep­a­rates South and North Korea, July 21, 2010.
Defense Depart­ment pho­to by Cherie Cullen
Click to enlarge

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)