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Gates says North Korea's weapons tests not a crisis

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the actions are provocative and require a diplomatic response, but there is no need for additional troops in the region.

May 29, 2009|Julian E. Barnes

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, GUAM — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today that weapons tests this week by North Korea pose problems for the United States, its allies and countries in the region, but do not constitute a crisis or require additional American troops.

The nuclear detonation and the missile tests Monday and Tuesday were hostile actions that merit a response, Gates said. But he emphasized the need for diplomatic answers.

"I don't think that anybody in the administration thinks there is a crisis," Gates said. "What we do have, though, are two new developments that are very provocative, that are aggressive, accompanied by very aggressive rhetoric."

Gates' comments, damping tensions, came after reports that U.S. and South Korean forces had been put on alert as North Korea said it was preparing for a U.S. attack.

North Korea on Thursday renounced the 1953 armistice that ended the fighting in the Korean War.

However, Gates said the U.S. military had not observed any moves that would be considered out of the ordinary.

"I do not think there is a need for us to reinforce our military presence in the South," Gates told reporters aboard his plane en route to a security conference in Singapore. "Whatever responses there are have to be multilateral."

About 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

If North Korea were to make a military move, U.S. Defense officials have said, Navy and Air Force units could quickly move in. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey said at an appearance in Washington that U.S. forces need 90 days to respond to a conventional military threat, but could mobilize much faster.

The nuclear test Monday added urgency to the Singapore meeting, an annual gathering. In addition to delivering an address, Gates plans to speak with Chinese officials and the defense ministers of Japan and South Korea.

North Korea's export of missile and weapons technology remains a top concern for the United States.

"These guys have shown a penchant for selling anything they have been able to develop," Gates said. "There is a lot of behavior in the past that gives us current concern."

Gates said the tests had angered even the Russians and Chinese, possibly setting the stage for tougher sanctions or more aggressive inspections.

"Based on what the Chinese government has said publicly, they are clearly pretty unhappy about the nuclear test in particular, and they weren't very happy about the missile test either," he said. "So there may be some opportunities here."

But Gates said that any new sanctions should be targeted at the North Korean weapons program, and must not put further burdens on the people. He does not want sanctions that could target food or energy supplies, officials have said.

"The North Korean regime has already done enough damage to the North Korean people," Gates said. "If you are going to talk about sanctions it seems to me they ought to be targeted to the problem and not at those who are being persecuted by the problem."

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julian.barnes@latimes.com

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