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Pacom Nominee Pledges to Keep Watchful Eye on North Korea

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 9, 2009 – The United States is right to keep a watchful eye on North Korea, the president’s nominee to be the next commander of U.S. Pacific Command said today.

“We should be concerned about North Korea and continue to be vigilant in watching over their behavior and prepare to defend against a provocation should [the North Korean leader] follow up on one of his threats,” Navy Adm. Robert Willard, the now commander of the U.S Pacific Fleet, said during his confirmation testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“We’ve been looking at this country for 50 years,” Willard said. “We pay a lot of attention to what’s going on in North Korea.”

Willard said he is confident about U.S. intelligence on North Korea’s capabilities, but the motivations for some of its actions, such as the latest round of provocative missile launches, remain a mystery.

In May, North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test, prompting the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution on June 12 banning all weapons exports from the country and the import of all but small arms. Just last week, North Korea launched a series of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, and a Taepo Dong II missile was launched some weeks ago, Willard said.

North Korea wouldn’t be the only challenge Willard would face if confirmed as the leader of Pacific Command. China, upset by U.S. authorization of weapons sales to Taiwan, had severed military-to-military interaction, Willard noted.

“The military-to-military dialogue with China has just, in recent weeks, recommenced beginning with an international fleet review that was held in China,” he said. “I think it’s incumbent first on both nations to realize the value, the benefit of military-to-military dialogue and to sustain it.”

Willard said he is looking forward to seeking new venues through which to engage the Chinese military if he is confirmed.

Another important challenge is the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command, part of Pacific Command, which doesn’t have enough scientific personnel to increase the number of identifications of remains recovered.

“If confirmed, I’ll look forward to understanding fully the resourcing requirements for JPAC,” Willard said. “I think resourcing is part of this answer. I think being able to access that level of scientific expertise and the availability of scientists of that caliber to perform this … work is the other [part].”

Willard, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, has extensive experience in the Pacific region and a thorough knowledge and understanding of the region’s history. An F-14 aviator, he was operations officer and executive officer for the “Top Gun” Navy Fighter Weapons School, and he commanded the “Screaming Eagles” of Fighter Squadron 51 and the USS Abraham Lincoln before becoming commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet.

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Navy Adm. Robert Willard

Related Sites:
U.S. Pacific Command
U.S. Pacific Fleet

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