Panetta: US, South Korea alliance strong against North Korea provocations
WASHINGTON – It’s uncertain whether the new leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, will soften his father’s leadership model, but Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was clear Wednesday that any provocations from the country will not be tolerated.
“Make no mistake: We will provide the forces and the military capabilities needed to help maintain security on the Korean peninsula,” Panetta said in a joint press conference with South Korean national defense minister Kim Kwan-jin. Kim said that while Kim Jong Un’s regime appears to be stable, the country is likely to perform a third nuclear test.
The country continues “to prepare for missile tests, they continue to prepare for nuclear tests, they continue to engage in enrichment of uranium against all international rules,” Panetta said. “ … They continue to behave in a provocative way.”
By working with South Korea, Panetta said, the U.S. hopes to send a message that “instead of threatening their neighbors,” North Korean leadership should come to the negotiating table.
Panetta and Kim briefed the press as part of an annual meeting between U.S. and Korean defense officials about the continuing alliance. The U.S. will continue to maintain a presence in Korea, Panetta said, and proceed with the plan to transfer operational control of South Korean troops to the South Korean government by 2015.
The U.S. has nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea as part of the deal brokered nearly 60 years ago at the end of the Korean War.
On Monday, South Korean activists sent balloons carrying tens of thousands of leaflets criticizing Kim Jong Un to the north side of the Korean peninsula, despite efforts by police in South Korea to stop them. North Korea had threatened military retaliation for the criticism.
Earlier this month, the U.S. agreed to allow South Korea to possess missiles that are capable of hitting anywhere in North Korea. Under a 2001 agreement, South Korea had been barred from developing the longer-range missiles. The U.S. in September also agreed to an early-warning radar system for Japan to protect against missile threats from North Korea.
Wednesday, Panetta also addressed the growing threat from al-Qaida terrorists in Mali, saying the U.S. will work with other countries in the region to “ensure that al-Qaeda has no place to hide.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.