USA/Südkorea — Gates to Reassure South Korea at Security Summit

SINGAPORE, June 3, 2010 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said today he’ll pro­vide assur­ances dur­ing the “Shangri-La Dia­logue” Asia secu­ri­ty sum­mit of the U.S. com­mit­ment to help South Korea and oth­er Pacif­ic nations deal with con­tin­ued provo­ca­tion from North Korea.

Speak­ing with reporters trav­el­ing with him short­ly before land­ing here for his fourth Shangri-La Dia­logue as defense sec­re­tary, Gates not­ed the March 26 sink­ing of the frigate Cheo­nan, which killed 46 South Kore­an sailors.

“An impor­tant ele­ment this time will be to reas­sure the South Kore­ans of our sup­port as they face these provo­ca­tions and a [North Korea] that seems even more unpre­dictable than usu­al,” he said.

The con­fer­ence also pro­vides a chance to touch base with oth­er part­ner coun­tries of grow­ing impor­tance, Gates said, adding that he’s also look­ing for­ward to a sec­ond annu­al tri­lat­er­al meet­ing June 5 with his South Kore­an and Japan­ese coun­ter­parts.

“I think we all have a lot to talk about at this point,” he said.

The secretary’s sched­ule for tomor­row includes bilat­er­al meet­ings with his Indone­sian, Viet­namese and South Kore­an coun­ter­parts and India’s nation­al secu­ri­ty advi­sor. He’ll also meet less for­mal­ly tomor­row with New Zealand’s defense min­is­ter.

On June 5, Gates will deliv­er a speech at the conference’s first ple­nary ses­sion. Lat­er, he’ll meet infor­mal­ly with Mongolia’s defense min­is­ter, and in addi­tion to the tri­lat­er­al meet­ing with Japan and South Korea, he’ll have a bilat­er­al meet­ing with Singapore’s defense min­is­ter and meet with Singapore’s pres­i­dent after­ward.

The sec­re­tary said the Shangri-La Dia­logue, which is host­ed by the Inter­na­tion­al Insti­tute for Strate­gic Stud­ies, and sim­i­lar oppor­tu­ni­ties for part­ner nations to get togeth­er aren’t intend­ed to reach con­crete solu­tions to spe­cif­ic prob­lems.

“I think these meet­ings are more about get­ting a deep­er under­stand­ing of posi­tions of oth­er coun­tries and their think­ing on these issues,” he said. The time pres­sures and rel­a­tive­ly short length of such meet­ings, he explained, don’t allow for pro­tract­ed nego­ti­a­tions or get­ting into the details of prob­lems that con­cern the par­tic­i­pat­ing nations. Rather, he added, the meet­ings help in pro­vid­ing a frame­work for solv­ing prob­lems as the nations involved share their posi­tions.

In addi­tion, he said, the form­ing and strength­en­ing of per­son­al rela­tion­ships at such con­fer­ences is ben­e­fi­cial.

“I think you estab­lish the kind of per­son­al rela­tion­ships that then allow you to pick up the phone, or when you have a bilat­er­al meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton or in a cap­i­tal, that allow you to address these prob­lems more effec­tive­ly,” Gates said.

Gates not­ed that his pres­ence in Sin­ga­pore is an impor­tant sig­nal to region­al allies.

“I think it’s a ges­ture of respect for our friends and part­ners in the region – it is a long way,” he said. “And the fact that we’re here, I think, is tes­ti­mo­ny of the Unit­ed States’ con­tin­u­ing inter­est in Asia — not only our inter­est, but our inter­ests that we have here. We are a Pacif­ic pow­er and intend to remain a pow­er in the Pacif­ic, and I think com­mu­ni­cat­ing that sig­nal is impor­tant in and of itself. And that’s the kind of thing that has to best be done in per­son.”

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