- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2009

SINGAPORE | Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned North Korea on Saturday that the United States would respond quickly if moves by the communist government threaten the U.S. or its Asian allies.

“We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in Asia — or on us,” Mr. Gates said in prepared remarks to an annual international meeting of defense and security officials from Asia and the Pacific Rim.

Mr. Gates offered no specifics on how the U.S. might respond to North Korea, militarily or otherwise, and has said there are no current plans to deploy more U.S. forces to the region.

His speech delivered his harshest words to date toward North Korea since Pyongyang detonated an underground nuclear device Monday, followed by several short-range missile launches over the past few days.

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

North Korea on Friday vowed to retaliate if punitive U.N. sanctions are imposed for its latest nuclear test, and U.S. officials said there are new signs Pyongyang may be planning more long-range missile launches. With tensions rising, the Stalinist nation punctuated its barrage of rhetoric with yet another short-range missile launch Friday — the sixth this week.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said the latest test 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.

Perhaps more significantly, officials in Washington said there are indications of increased activity at a site used to fire long-range missiles.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because methods of gathering information about North Korea are sensitive. The officials also said an initial U.S. air sampling from near the underground test site was inconclusive. At least one more test is planned.

Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, said 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.

Mr. Gates also spoke broadly about bolstering diplomatic relations with China and cited common challenges the two nations face: counterterrorism, piracy, energy security and disaster relief. “It is essential for the United States and China to find opportunities to cooperate wherever possible,” he said.

The North Korean nuclear test and flurry of missile launches, coupled with rhetoric from Pyongyang that it won’t honor a 1953 truce ending the fighting in the Korean War, have raised tensions in the region and heightened concerns that the North may provoke a skirmish along the border or off its western coast — the site of deadly clashes in 1999 and 2002.

North Korea said it conducted the test in self-defense and warned it would not accept sanctions or other punitive measures being discussed by the U.N. Security Council.

“If the U.N. Security Council makes a further provocation, it will be inevitable for us to take further self-defense measures,” the Foreign Ministry said.

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 the 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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