Gates Thanks Chinese for Easing Korean Peninsula Tensions
Washington — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is in China to strengthen military-to-military relations between the two nations, says the Chinese leadership has played a vital role in the last several months to dampen tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and the United States is appreciative.
“What I think we would like to see are some concrete actions by North Korea that show that they’re serious about moving to a negotiation and an engagement track,” Gates said at a January 11 press conference in Beijing.
Gates is visiting China, Japan and South Korea to broaden U.S. and Chinese military-to-military relations and address some of the significant security challenges in Northeast Asia. Recent provocations by the North Korean regime have done little, he said, to convince members of the Six-Party Talks that the North intends to end its nuclear weapons ambitions.
The Six-Party Talks — which involve China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States — have been held for nearly eight years, though not continuously, in an attempt to find a peaceful means of convincing the North Korean regime to forgo development of nuclear weapons and the long-range missiles to deliver them. The participants have offered a number of political, diplomatic and economic incentives, but North Korea has continued to develop a weapons program in the face of substantive sanctions.
“With the North Koreans’ continuing development of nuclear weapons and their development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea is becoming a direct threat to the United States, and we have to take that into account,” Gates told reporters.
The combination of the two development programs — weapons and missiles — is worsening the situation and strengthening the threat, he added.
“We consider this a situation of real concern, and we think there is some urgency to proceeding down the track of negotiations and engagement, but we don’t want to see the situation that we’ve seen so many times before, which is the North Koreans engage in a provocation and then everybody scrambles diplomatically to try and put [relations] back together again,” Gates said.
In March 2010, North Korea fired on a South Korean naval vessel, killing 46 sailors, and in November 2010 fired on a disputed island between the two nations that killed two soldiers and two civilians.
Gates told reporters that talk by the North Korean regime by itself is not enough to restart full negotiations. First, steps toward convincing the other members of the Six-Party Talks of its desire to negotiate could include a moratorium on nuclear testing and missile testing.
Gates is in Beijing until January 12, and then travels to Tokyo to meet with senior Japanese officials January 13–14. Gates will make a brief stop in Seoul for talks with South Korean leaders January 14 before returning to Washington.
President Obama welcomes China’s president, Hu Jintao, to Washington for an official state visit January 19. Gates’ trip to Beijing is part of a week of activities that includes speeches by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in Washington on U.S.-China economic relations on January 12, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on January 13 on U.S.-China business relations and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on January 14 on the broader scope of U.S.-China relations.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)