USA/South Korea — Gates to Underscore U.S. Commitment to South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea, July 19, 2010 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates arrived here tonight for a vis­it intend­ed to under­score the U.S. com­mit­ment to South Korea and pro­vide frame­work for fur­ther strength­en­ing the alliance between the two nations.

Gates and Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton will meet with their South Kore­an coun­ter­parts in the first “2‑plus‑2 Talks” between the two nations. Among oth­er agen­da items, they’re expect­ed to final­ize details for a series of mil­i­tary exer­cis­es to be con­duct­ed over the next sev­er­al months, offi­cials said.

The USS George Wash­ing­ton will arrive July 21 in Busan on the south­east­ern tip of the Kore­an penin­su­la for a port vis­it that will last until July 25. Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary Geoff Mor­rell told reporters trav­el­ing with Gates that the port visit’s tim­ing, in con­junc­tion with the 2‑plus‑2 Talks, pro­vides “a visu­al, tan­gi­ble man­i­fes­ta­tion of our com­mit­ment to the secu­ri­ty of the Repub­lic of Korea.”

After the port vis­it, Mor­rell added, the George Wash­ing­ton will par­tic­i­pate in the first of the U.S.-South Kore­an mil­i­tary exer­cis­es expect­ed over the com­ing months. The George Wash­ing­ton is the U.S. Navy’s only per­ma­nent­ly for­ward-deployed air­craft car­ri­er. Three destroy­ers from its strike group also will vis­it South Kore­an ports this week. USS McCamp­bell and USS John S. McCain will vis­it Busan, and USS Lassen will vis­it Chin­hae.

“Our pres­ence here is a tes­ta­ment to the strength of our alliance and our con­stant readi­ness to defend the Repub­lic of Korea,” Navy Capt. David Laus­man, the George Washington’s com­mand­ing offi­cer, said in a writ­ten state­ment released by U.S. Forces Korea.

The 2‑plus‑2 Talks and the George Washington’s port vis­it come amid con­tin­u­ing world reac­tion to North Korea’s March 26 sink­ing of the frigate Cheo­nan, which killed 46 South Kore­an sailors.

A senior Defense Depart­ment offi­cial speak­ing on back­ground said last week that dis­cour­ag­ing North Korea from con­tin­u­ing its aggres­sive behav­ior is part of the aim of Gates’ vis­it and the exer­cis­es that will fol­low.

“We’re try­ing to send a clear mes­sage of deter­rence to North Korea,” the offi­cial said, “which we hope will have an effect of impress­ing upon them that they need to recon­sid­er the sort of behav­ior they’ve been engaged in, includ­ing the Cheo­nan [inci­dent]. We’re also seek­ing to work with [South Korea] to increase and enhance the alliance’s capa­bil­i­ties — readi­ness, flex­i­bil­i­ty and our oper­a­tional capac­i­ty. So I think there’s a real pur­pose to these exer­cis­es.”

Also on the agen­da for the talks is the trans­fer of wartime oper­a­tional con­trol of forces on the Kore­an penin­su­la to the South Kore­an mil­i­tary by Decem­ber 2015. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and South Kore­an Pres­i­dent Lee Myung-bak announced a delay in that trans­fer – orig­i­nal­ly sched­uled for April 2012 – after they met dur­ing the G‑20 Sum­mit in Toron­to last month.

“This gives us appro­pri­ate time … with­in the exist­ing secu­ri­ty con­text to do this right,” Oba­ma said in Toron­to, “because this alliance is the linch­pin of not only secu­ri­ty for the Repub­lic of Korea and the Unit­ed States, but also for the Pacif­ic as a whole.”

Gates also will par­tic­i­pate in an obser­vance of the 60th anniver­sary of the start of the Kore­an War dur­ing his vis­it.

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