May 24, 2010
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that North Korea's sinking of a South Korean warship has created a "highly precarious" security situation in the region and that the Obama administration is working to prevent an escalation of tension that could lead to conflict.
Speaking to reporters in Beijing shortly after the White House issued a statement offering Washington's full and unequivocal support for Seoul, Clinton said all of North Korea's neighbors, including its chief ally China, understand the seriousness of the matter and want to "contain" it.
"We are working hard to avoid an escalation of belligerence and provocation," Clinton said. "This is a highly precarious situation that the North Koreans have caused in the region."Clinton would not discuss the details of what the United States might do but noted that President Barack Obama had ordered U.S. military commanders to "to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression" from North Korea. The United States has 28,500 troops in South Korea.
The U.S. will work with other nations to see that North Korea feels the consequences of its actions and changes its behavior to avoid "the kind of escalation that would be very regrettable," she said.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said earlier Monday that Seoul would cut all trade with the impoverished regime — part of measures primarily aimed at striking back at North Korea diplomatically and financially. He also vowed to take the incident to the U.N. Security Council for punishment over the March 26 sinking of the warship.
Both the White House and Clinton said the U.S. strongly supported Lee's moves. But winning China's support for U.N. action against the North is critical as it is a veto-wielding permanent member of the panel and can block any move there.
Clinton is in Beijing for high-level strategic and economic talks and members of her delegation say she has an uphill battle to convince the Chinese either that North Korea sank the ship — something Pyongyang has denied — or to support new U.N. measures against the fellow communist nation.
China is North Korea's main ally and has so far remained neutral in the matter despite an international investigation that found the ship was sunk by an explosion caused by a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine.
But Clinton said that as a result of her discussions with Chinese leaders on Sunday and Monday she believed they "recognize the gravity of the situation we face."
"The Chinese understand the reaction by the South Koreans, and they also understand our unique responsibility for the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula," she said.Earlier Monday in an address to the opening of the high-level U.S.-China strategic and economic dialogue, Clinton urged China to work with the United States to coordinate a response to the sinking.
"We must work together ... to address this challenge and advance our shared objectives of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," she said at Beijing's Great Hall of the People.Clinton was joined onstage at China's Great Hall of the People by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo, all of whom spoke. Neither Wang nor Dai specifically mentioned North Korea or Iran, but Dai made clear in that China would not support any attempt to provoke conflict.
"No attempt to stir up confrontation and stage war, be it a hot war, a cold war or even a warm war, will be popular in today's world," he said. "Nor will such an attempt lead to anywhere."Similarly, Chinese President Hu Jintao, who also addressed the opening session, did not mention North Korea by name but spoke of the responsibilities shared by the United States and China for "managing regional hotspots" and "safeguarding world peace and security."
May 24, 2010
President Barack Obama has directed the U.S. military to coordinate with South Korea to "ensure readiness" and deter future aggression from North Korea, the White House said on Monday.
The United States gave strong backing to plans by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to punish North Korea for sinking one of its naval ships, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
The White House urged North Korea to apologize and change its behavior, he said.
"We endorse President Lee's demand that North Korea immediately apologize and punish those responsible for the attack, and, most importantly, stop its belligerent and threatening behavior," Gibbs said.Obama and Lee have agreed to meet at the G20 summit in Canada next month, he said.
"U.S. support for South Korea's defense is unequivocal, and the president has directed his military commanders to coordinate closely with their Republic of Korea counterparts to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression," he said.
Late last week, a team of international investigators accused North Korea of torpedoing the Cheonan corvette in March, killing 46 sailors in one of the deadliest clashes between the two since the 1950-53 Korean War.
Lee said on Monday South Korea would bring the issue before the U.N., whose past sanctions have damaged the already ruined North Korean economy.
The United States still has about 28,000 troops in South Korea to provide military support.
The two Koreas, still technically at war, have more than 1 million troops near their border.
"We will build on an already strong foundation of excellent cooperation between our militaries and explore further enhancements to our joint posture on the Peninsula as part of our ongoing dialogue," Gibbs said.Gibbs said the United States supported Lee's plans to bring the issue to the United Nations Security Council and would work with allies to "reduce the threat that North Korea poses to regional stability."
Obama had also directed U.S. agencies to evaluate existing policies toward North Korea.
"This review is aimed at ensuring that we have adequate measures in place and to identify areas where adjustments would be appropriate," he said.