- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2009


SINGAPORE | Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates Saturday told North Korea’s leadership that it must choose between deepening the country’s pariah status and joining the international community and he vowed to defend the United States and its allies against nuclear and missile threats from the belligerent yet impoverished state.

“The choice to continue as a destitute, international pariah, or chart a new course, is North Korea’s alone to make,” Mr. Gates told a security conference here. “The world is waiting.”

The language was some of the strongest used by U.S. officials since North Korea carried out its second test of a nuclear device on Monday.

Mr. Gates stopped short of calling the situation a crisis. But the U.S. has put its 28,000 troops in South Korea on high alert in response to the North Korean actions, which have included firing off a half dozen short-range missiles and making apparent preparations to test another long-range missile.

“The United States and our allies are open to dialogue, but we will not bend to pressure or provocation,” he said. ” We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region — or on us.”

The secretary did not say what might happen if North Korea continues to escalate the situation but called for a unified international response to the nuclear test.

“What is central to multilateral efforts with respect to [North Korea] now is to try to peacefully stop those programs before they do, in fact, become, as the expression goes, clear and present danger — not just to the United States but to others here in the region,” he said.

“For there to be a peaceful solution, it requires multilateral efforts and a willingness to impose real sanctions that bring both countries real pain for their failure to adhere to international norms,” he added.

The U.S. and Japan introduced a U.N. Security Council resolution last week, and Russian and Chinese officials have indicated that they will agree to some sanctions. However, there are concerns among Western diplomats that the two countries — both North Korean allies — may not go far enough.

Both China and Russia fear that tough international sanctions could create instability in the North, resulting in huge refugee waves onto their territories, though there are indications that Moscow and in particular, Beijing, are getting increasingly exasperated with Pyongyang.

On his way to Asia, Mr. Gates insisted that the current situation is “not a crisis,” though on Saturday he said that the nuclear progress the North Koreans “have made gives urgency to the effort to try to bring enough pressure” on them.

“One of the only effective ways of seizing the attention of the government in Pyongyang is by a harsh range of financial measures,” said Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

North Korea on Friday threatened to retaliate for new sanctions and launched a short-range missile.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said the launch was a surface-to-air missile designed to defend against aircraft or other missile attacks. It said the missile was believed to be a modified version of the Russian SA-5.

Meanwhile, officials in Washington told Associated Press that the U.S. has spotted increased activity at a site in North Korea used to fire long-range missiles.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because methods of gathering information about North Korea are sensitive.

Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, said earlier this week that the U.S. would need about 90 days to get more troops to the region if called up. An estimated 28,000 U.S. troops already are stationed in South Korea, part of about 250,000 soldiers in the U.S. Pacific Command.

The draft of a U.N. resolution being negotiated in response to the North’s second nuclear test calls on all countries to immediately enforce sanctions imposed after the North’s first test in 2006.

They include a partial arms embargo, a ban on luxury goods, and ship searches for illegal weapons or material. The sanctions have been sporadically implemented, with many of the 192 U.N. member states ignoring them.

The partial draft, obtained Friday by Associated Press after it first appeared on New York-based Inner City Press Web site, would have the council condemn the North’s Monday nuclear test “in the strongest terms … in flagrant violation and disregard” of the 2006 resolution.

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