Clinton: Koreas security situation 'precarious'
By MATTHEW LEE (AP)
BEIJING 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."
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.
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.
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Al Pessin | Washington, D.C.04 June 2010
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, right, and South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae Young talk before their bilateral meeting during the Shangri-La Dialogue's Asia Security Summit in Singapore, 04 Jun 2010
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says planned military exercises with South Korea may be postponed until after the United Nations decides how to respond to the current crisis, but a Pentagon spokesman says planning for two naval exercises continues.
Secretary Gates told reporters in Singapore, where he is attending a regional security conference, that South Korea's request for U.N. action may cause a delay in the planned exercises.
"There is a sequencing involved in this," he said. "And it may be that there is a desire first to see what can be accomplished at the UN, and then think about next steps beyond that."
An international investigation concluded that North Korea sank a South Korean Navy ship in March, killing 46 sailors. North Korea disputes the finding.
As part of their response, the United States and South Korea announced they would conduct two joint naval exercises late this month or early next month. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says preparations for those exercises are still in progress.
"The planning for those exercises continues," he said. "The exercises that we talked about doing, the (anti-)submarine exercise and the maritime partnership exercises are sometime down the road at this point anyway."
Some South Korean and U.S. officials said earlier this week that the exercises could begin as early as next Monday, but if that plan existed it has now been abandoned. U.S. officials have also strongly denied reports that there are plans for an aircraft carrier to be involved in the exercises.
Some experts and officials have expressed concern about provoking further attacks by nuclear-armed North Korea. At the Singapore conference Friday, the commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific, Admiral Robert Willard, said recent harsh North Korean rhetoric about the planned exercises is normal, and his forces are ready for any contingency.
"Right now, we're not seeing indications that North Korea is intending a next provocation. But I think everyone in the region is watching North Korea very closely, given their unpredictability," said Willard.
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