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Gates Reaffirms Commitment to South Korea

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 22, 2009 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today reaffirmed the United States’ “unwavering commitment” to its alliance with the South Korea, assuring it will continue to provide extended deterrence against North Korea and other threats.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates speaks to U.S. and Republic of Korea soldiers during a town hall meeting on Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul, South Korea, Oct. 21, 2009. Gates is in South Korea to discuss defense issues with local leaders. DoD Photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Meeting here for the 41st Annual Security Consultative Meeting, which he is co-chairing with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae Young, Gates offered assurances that the United States will use “the full range of military capabilities, including the nuclear umbrella,” to protect South Korea’s security.

Kim cited in his opening statement the ever-present threat to the north, exacerbated by North Korea’s recent missile launches.

“Although on the surface there are signs of some change from North Korea, including its recent willingness to talk, in reality, the unstable situation, such as the nuclear program and a ‘military first’ policy remains unchanged,” he told Gates.

Today’s talks focused heavily on the challenges North Korea poses, Gates told reporters during a joint news conference with Kim after the session.

“In addition to the traditional military threat, North Korea’s ballistic missiles and emerging nuclear weapons programs have a destabilizing effect, both regionally and internationally,” he said.

For that reason, he said, the United States stands together with South Korea and other allies and partners toward achieving “the complete and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea.”

Gates called the U.S. force presence here a key to the strong combined deterrent capability in place.

“I believe, Mr. Kim, our alliance is strong and healthy today and on a solid course for the future,” he said. “I look forward to our discussions to build on this strength.”

Gates told reporters he was impressed with the detailed report he received today of the progress toward the transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean forces. He said he has “complete confidence” that the transfer will proceed as planned by April 2012.

Kim, who served as South Korea's chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before assuming his new post in September, has been a strong advocate of changes and reform to better posture his forces to cope with tensions on the peninsula.

Kim’s agenda is directly in line with that of South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, whose vision of a more globally focused military Gates noted during remarks yesterday to U.S. and South Korean troops at Yongsan Garrison.

“As President Lee said on Armed Forces Day three weeks ago, Korea’s military must ‘adapt and transform to the new environments and new types of threats,’” Gates told the group. This, he continued, means not only protecting the homeland, but also, again borrowing Lee’s words, transforming the force to “carry out roles commensurate with its growing stature as a global Korea.’”

Toward the goal, today’s discussions also focused not only on continued U.S. commitment to its alliance with South Korea, but also expanded roles South Korea can play in regional stability, Gates said.

Toward that goal, today’s discussions were expected to focus not only on continued U.S. commitment to the alliance, but also expanded roles South Korea can play in regional stability.

South Korea is a member of the six-party talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, and recently joined the multinational Proliferation Security Initiative. It’s also helping to enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, a measure aimed at halting North Korea’s nuclear proliferation.

A senior military official traveling with Gates noted the success of the cooperation, evidenced in late June when the rusting Kang Nam 1 North Korean freighter turned around at sea and returned to its home port of Nampo. The ship was believed to be carrying cargo banned by the U.N. resolution before it turned around, seemingly with nowhere to go because no country could accept it, the official said.

“Despite the attempts to make it look like the next sequel of ‘Master and Commander,’ with the chase at sea,” the senior defense official joked, the foiled delivery proves that “international consensus does have an effect, and that the ship turned around.”

Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard, who took command of U.S. Pacific Command earlier this week, told reporters he believes North Korea will remain a top focus.

“A nuclear-armed North Korea, and a North Korea that chooses to provoke and a North Korea that may be on the brink of succession – all those things make North Korea worthy of our attention now,” he said. “So, North Korea needs to be watched very closely.”

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Robert M. Gates
Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard

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