Friday, October 28, 2011

Pentagon, South Korea Threatens DPRK

October 28, 2011

Panetta Joins South Korea in Warning to North

New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea — The United States and South Korea held out the possibility on Friday that the two nations would join in a military response against North Korea if there is another provocation in the region from North Korean leaders.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and the South Korean defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin, in effect threatened North Korea with some form of a counterattack if it engaged in another belligerent act, like its shelling of a South Korean island last November.

But Mr. Kim was far more emphatic than Mr. Panetta, and Pentagon officials quickly played down the likelihood of an American military response, although they did not rule it out. A 1953 mutual defense treaty between the United States and South Korea stipulates that either country will come to the defense of the other if attacked by a third party.

The United States and South Korea “will jointly deter any additional provocations by North Korea,” Mr. Kim said at the news conference with Mr. Panetta.

For his part, Mr. Panetta said, “We can provide strong and effective responses to those kinds of provocations if we work together and if we develop the kind of coordinated response that we think is necessary.”

Their statements were in large part meant to support South Korea, which has grown increasingly anxious about North Korean actions. The South Korean public was furious when civilians were killed in the shelling of the island, and although South Korea returned fire, many South Koreans felt there should have been a stronger response.

Mr. Panetta was on his last day of a weeklong trip to Asia that was meant to project American power in the Pacific and reassure allies.

The Pentagon press secretary, George Little, told reporters after the news conference that the United States had “a full spectrum” of potential responses to North Korea, which he said included more joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea, the repositioning of American forces in the region and “other nonkinetic responses.”

The statements from Mr. Panetta and Mr. Kim were also a clear effort to deter the North from future provocations. Mr. Kim said he expected future belligerence, as do American military officials.

At the news conference, Mr. Panetta and Mr. Kim reiterated longstanding demands that North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons program and in a joint communiqué called it both a “serious” and “grave” threat. They pledged to complete by the end of this year an American-South Korean “counterprovocation” plan, a military road map for how the two countries would jointly respond to a North Korean action.

Mr. Panetta, who is four months into his job as defense secretary, has taken a tough line against the North Korean government during his visit of two and a half days in Seoul.

Although North Korea has been more accommodating in recent months, American military officials and a number of Obama administration officials believe that the North is doing so only to extract food, fuel, economic assistance and other aid from the nations involved in the talks.

Su-hyun Lee contributed reporting from Seoul.

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