Defense leaders: North Korea remains threat to peace
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2012 – North Korea remains a threat to regional and global peace, U.S. and South Korean defense leaders said here today, adding that they still are unsure what North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, will do.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and South Korean National Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin spoke to reporters following the 44th annual Security Consultative Meeting at the Pentagon today.
U.S. and South Korean defense leaders discussed the threat from North Korea and reaffirmed that both nations are concerned about North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities.
“Secretary Panetta and I reaffirmed our shared view that North Korea’s asymmetric military capabilities, such as [its] nuclear weapons program and missiles, pose a serious threat not only to the security of the Korean peninsula, but also to that of Northeast Asia and the world as a whole,” Kim said.
The United States and South Korea will continue to work together to deter North Korea, the defense leaders said. Specifically, they will continue to work on “the concepts and principles for a bilateral deterrence strategy of the North Korean nuclear and [weapons of mass destruction] threats,” Kim said. The two countries will work together to develop a tailored deterrence strategy based on these concepts and principles.
Panetta and Kim also agreed on South Korean missile guidelines.
The defense leaders also addressed the planning that will lead to the transfer of wartime operational control for forces on the peninsula to South Korea. This milestone is set for December 2015. “In particular, the two countries agreed to jointly develop a future command structure that will ensure military efficiency after the transition of wartime operational control,” Kim said.
Panetta said South Korea will continue to be an exporter of peace -- continuing to work with the international community in places such as Haiti, Afghanistan, the Gulf of Aden, Lebanon and South Sudan -- but that its focus at home must remain North Korea.
“With regards to any provocations from the North,” he said, “I think it’s very clear that South Korea and the United States have a strong cooperative relationship, and that when those provocations occur, that we will work together to determine … [what] kind of response should be provided, if necessary.”
Kim said that for now, Kim Jong Un’s regime “seems to be quite stable.” But he noted signs that the regime will conduct another nuclear test.
“In fact, North Korea has been preparing for this for quite a long time,” he said. “And when the time comes for a political decision, it may in fact resort to this third nuclear test.”
Since taking over, Kim Jong Un has been trying to introduce economic reform measures, the defense minister said. “He seems to be making attempts to bringing a better life to his people, but the likelihood of success is yet to be seen,” he added.
Kim said the 29-year-old North Korean leader will continue hang on to the “military first” policy that has been the mainstay of North Korea since the end of World War II. “He may be a lot more aggressive compared to old people, because he's still young,” the South Korean defense minister said.
Panetta agreed that much remains to be known about Kim Jung Un’s regime. “We still don’t know whether or not he will simply follow in the steps of his father or whether he represents a different kind of leadership for the future,” he said.
The U.S. concern is that North Korea continues to prepare for missile and nuclear testing, the secretary said.
“They continue to engage in enrichment of uranium, against all international rules,” he said. “They continue to behave in a provocative way that threatens the security of our country and, obviously, of South Korea and the region.”