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Gates Stresses Need to Prevent North Korean Provocations

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

TOKYO, Jan. 13, 2011 – Preventing another North Korea provocation of South Korea is in everyone’s interest, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

In the past year, North Korea torpedoed the South Korean ship Cheonan, killing 46 sailors, and shelled the island of Yeongpeong, killing two civilians and two South Korean service members.

“Every country has the right to protect itself and defend itself against an unprovoked attack,” Gates said during a news conference at the Japanese defense ministry. “I think the key on the Korean peninsula, as I discussed in China and here in Japan, is to prevent another provocation from happening.”

The danger of escalation of force exists, the secretary said, and the United States, Japan, China and South Korea must work together to ensure stability and peace on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea has said it is willing to negotiate with South, Gates noted, but he added that the Pyongyang government must demonstrate it will change its behavior.

“This requires that the North cease its belligerent behavior, and its provocations that have killed innocent victims, both military and civilian, in Korea,” Gates said. “We are supportive of negotiations and engagement between North and South but there must be concrete evidence on the part of the North that they are serious about these negotiations.”

Gates has spoken with Chinese leaders about the situation on the peninsula, and his meetings today examined the subject. He will visit Seoul tomorrow to talk with South Korean leaders on the way ahead.

“All four countries have a common interest in a peaceful outcome and stability on the peninsula, and in each place we’ve talked about how to pursue that,” he said.

The secretary said wants to break the cycle of North Korean violence followed by crocodile tears.

“We have seen this cycle over and over again, and I think the objective we all have in common is how to prevent another provocation from taking place. How do we move the process forward on the peninsula in a way that shows the North Koreans are serious about engagement, serious about negotiations and that this is not just a repeat of what we have seen so often in the past after a provocation of trying to re-set the clock back to what it was before?” he said.

In China, he called for concrete North Korean steps, suggesting that a moratorium on nuclear and missile work would be a good place to start.

Gates met with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa. In addition to North Korea, Gates briefed the men on his visit to Beijing and meetings with Chinese leaders.

He also discussed the challenges associated with China’s growing military strength, the U.S.-Japanese collaboration on ballistic missile defense and in furthering U.S.-Japanese cooperation in areas such as counterpiracy, peacekeeping disaster response, humanitarian assistance and other important multinational efforts. These efforts include Japan’s substantial financial contributions to Afghanistan.

The meetings also covered a discussion on new Japanese defense program guidelines. He called the study “a forward-thinking document that reaffirms the importance of our alliance, including the U.S. military presence, to Japan’s defense.”

The leaders also discussed the U.S.-Japan alliance and its new vision statement.

“It has been about five years since the last vision statement, and the world and circumstances in Northeast Asia have evolved a good deal since then,” Gates said. “So it is appropriate to update our alliance at this time.”

The U.S. and Japanese leaders also discussed the relocation of U.S. forces in Okinawa.

Gates is scheduled to make a major speech tomorrow on the U.S-Japanese alliance at Keio University before flying to South Korea.

 

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