USA/South Korea — Gates Plans Demilitarized Zone Visit as Gesture of Solidarity

CAMP CASEY, South Korea, July 20, 2010 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates will vis­it Korea’s demil­i­ta­rized zone tomor­row in a demon­stra­tion of U.S.-South Kore­an sol­i­dar­i­ty.

Gates told sol­diers of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 1st Heavy Brigade Com­bat Team here that he’ll vis­it the demil­i­ta­rized zone along with Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton and their South Kore­an coun­ter­parts to high­light the impor­tance of oper­a­tions there and to demon­strate the “stead­fast” U.S. com­mit­ment to South Korea.

“I think [the demil­i­ta­rized zone vis­it] is a use­ful reminder that we are in an armistice and that it is a volatile region,” Gates told reporters after his talk with the sol­diers, not­ing North Korea’s sink­ing of the freighter Cheo­nan in March that killed 46 South Kore­an sol­diers. “I think it’s a ges­ture of sol­i­dar­i­ty with our Kore­an allies, and recog­ni­tion that issues of [North Kore­an] mis­sile and nuclear pro­lif­er­a­tion endure and con­tin­ue to be seri­ous chal­lenges for us and for our allies.”

Gates told the sol­diers that he and Clin­ton will par­tic­i­pate with their South Kore­an coun­ter­parts in the first “2‑plus‑2 Talks” between the two nations tomor­row, and they’ll dis­cuss a wide range of issues, includ­ing upcom­ing mil­i­tary exer­cis­es. Though the meet­ings were in the plan­ning stages before the Cheo­nan inci­dent, he said, “that attack and our col­lec­tive efforts to pre­vent anoth­er one will cer­tain­ly also be a part of our bilat­er­al dis­cus­sions this week.”

In fact, the sec­re­tary said, he would meet lat­er in the day with South Kore­an Defense Min­is­ter Kim Tae-young to dis­cuss a series of exer­cis­es involv­ing the two nations’ armed forces over the next sev­er­al months. The exer­cis­es, main­ly in the Sea of Japan and the Yel­low Sea, are designed to enhance inter­op­er­abil­i­ty and readi­ness, he said, adding that the exer­cis­es also are meant to send a strong sig­nal of deter­rence to North Korea.

The air­craft car­ri­er USS George Wash­ing­ton is arriv­ing in South Korea this week for a port vis­it and will par­tic­i­pate in the first exer­cise of the upcom­ing series.

“It’s going to be a pret­ty big exer­cise — I think all togeth­er [it will involve] about 18 ships – 10 U.S., eight South Kore­an,” Gates told the sol­diers, who are based about 20 miles from the demil­i­ta­rized zone. The exer­cise also will involve a large num­ber of air­craft and will fea­ture anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare oper­a­tions and air­craft oper­a­tions using an Air Force train­ing range, he added.

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