Panetta Says U.S. Unwavering in Support of South Korea
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 19, 2011 Officials across government have collectively conveyed America’s unwavering commitment to South Korea, Defense Department officials said today.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta spoke with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin about the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il in a 15-minute telephone call this morning, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said.
“The secretary conveyed to Mr. Kim the strong commitment of the United States to peninsular stability and to our alliance,” he said. “He made it clear that the United States stands with Korea in this time of uncertainty.”
Little stressed there has been no increase in force protection for U.S. forces in Korea and that there is “no truth” to rumors that U.S. families would be evacuated.
No unusual military movements connected with the death of Kim Jong-il have been detected, Little said. There are 36,000 U.S. service members based in South Korea.
The two defense leaders agreed that it is critical for both countries to remain prudent with respect to all matters related to the security posture on the peninsula. Both promised to consult often in the days and weeks ahead.
U.S. officials would not comment on an announcement from North Korean officials that Kim’s son, Kim Jong-eun, will take over the isolated country.
“I wouldn’t comment on the particulars of succession at this stage,” Little said. “Obviously, we are closely monitoring the succession process. The North Koreans are in a period of mourning at this point, and that being said, the military does exercise a prominent role in North Korea, but I wouldn’t want to speculate at this stage.”
U.S. and South Korean officials believe that a North Korean missile test conducted earlier today was pre-planned and not connected to Kim’s death, a senior Pentagon official said on background.
Panetta was briefed on Kim’s death immediately after word reached the outside world last weekend, Little said.
“He has been closely monitoring the situation ever since,” the press secretary said. “He has been in contact with senior officials here in the department.”