Gates: U.S. Committed to Security in South Korea
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
SEOUL, Republic of Korea, Nov. 7, 2007 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates placed a wreath at a South Korean national cemetery for war dead today and met with South Korean defense leaders to discuss the strong U.S.-Korean alliance.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates meets with Korean Minister of Defense Kim Jang-soo during the 39th Security Consultation Meeting at the Ministry of Defense Republic of Korea, Nov. 7, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Republic of Korea National Cemetery is a somber reminder of the cost of the Korean War. The cemetery, near the Han River in the heart of this city of 20 million, honors the more than 2 million Korean people who died in the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953.
Gates said his visit to the cemetery reminded him that the U.S.-Republic of Korea alliance was “an alliance formed in blood and shared sacrifice.”
Gates is in South Korea to participate in the 39th Security Consultative Meeting between leaders of the two countries. He met with Minister of National Defense Kim Jang-soo, at the country’s Ministry of National Security.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen; Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command; and Army Gen. Burwell B. Bell, commander of U.S. Forces Korea and Combined Forces Command, accompanied the secretary.
During his statement opening the meeting, Minister Kim thanked Gates for recent U.S. help, including in ending a Korean hostage situation in Afghanistan and resolving the piracy of a Korean ship off Somalia.
During the past year, the alliance has resolved many long-standing issues, including the timing of the transition of wartime operational control of Korean forces to Korea and the return of U.S. Forces Korea installations.
During a news conference after the meeting, Gates was unequivocal in U.S. support to South Korea.
“The United States remains committed to the security of the Republic of Korea, in keeping with our alliance that is now more than 50 years old,” he said. “The level of our troops will depend on the security situation and on our joint appraisal with the Republic of Korea on the need for those troops.
“It is my expectation that we will continue to play a role in the security of the peninsula for a long time, including past 2012, in accordance with agreements with the Republic of Korea,” the secretary continued.
North Korea is cooperating in dismantling its nuclear programs, but it is too early to let down the alliance’s guard, Kim said. “Although it is true that North Korea has begun the process of dismantling its nuclear program, we cannot say that the threat from North Korea has reduced tangibly or discernibly,” Kim said.
There is no intelligence to indicate that North Korea is less of a threat, he said. “In order for us to change our view of the situation, we would need very real and very tangible military intelligence to that effect,” Kim said. “What is certain is that North Korea is continuing to pursue acquisition of asymmetrical weapons. We cannot conclude the threat from North Korea has been reduced.”
Gates welcomed the beginning of the disablement process. “The next step is the declaration of all nuclear facilities and activities,” he said. “So there are several steps in this process, and the objective is the denuclearization of North Korea. So we are started on the path, but we are far from reaching our destination.”
Korea’s deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and other areas of the world demonstrate the U.S.-Korean alliance’s global role, Gates said.
“This continues the long-standing security relationship that we have had since the early days of this alliance,” the secretary said. “We are deeply grateful to Korea for its contributions to make a safer world.”
Gates and Kim discussed the recent Inter-Korean Summit and plans for Inter-Korean defense ministerial talks later this month.
The two men shared assessments of the security situation on the peninsula “and discussed ways in which our combined defense posture on the peninsula could be strengthened and enhanced,” Kim said.
Both agreed that the U.S.-South Korean alliance must retain a solid defense posture to maintain peace on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia.
“Our discussions touched on transformation and realignment of U.S. Forces Korea, measures to increase defense preparedness, and South Korean plans to increase its defense capabilities,” Gates said. “In particular, we had a good discussion and review of how we plan to transition wartime operational control of Republic of Korea forces by 2012.”
Both sides are dedicated to meeting the transition commitment and the 2012 deadline, Gates said. “This historic change will strengthen our combined deterrence and defense capabilities and strengthen the alliance as a whole,” the secretary said.
A communiqué issued following the meeting gave more details.
“Secretary Gates offered firm assurances that the transition of wartime operational control will be carried out in a manner that strengthens deterrence and maintains a fully capable ROK-U.S. combined defense posture on the peninsula,” the communiqué states. “The secretary reaffirmed that the U.S. will continue to provide significant bridging capabilities until the ROK obtains full self-defense capabilities.
“Secretary Gates further noted that the U.S. will continue to contribute U.S. unique capabilities to the combined defense for the life of the alliance.”
Gates also used the occasion to speak to U.S. servicemembers serving on the peninsula. “I’d also like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the men and women stationed here as part of the U.S. Forces Korea for the important work they do every day,” he said.