By Donna Miles, American Forces Press ServiceDecember 8, 2010
SEOUL, South Korea (Dec. 7, 2010) -- U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived here Dec. 8, after crossing the international dateline, to meet with South Korean defense officials and reinforce U.S. commitment to the U.S.-South Korean alliance amid escalating tensions on the peninsula.
Mullen told reporters he hopes to send "a very strong signal" of support while discussing long-term strategic objectives during consultations with the new South Korean national defense minister, Kim Kwan-jin, and Army Gen. Han Min-koo, chairman of the South Korean military, as well as other members of the South Korean national security team.
The visit, which occurs as South Korea observes the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, follows a series of provocations by North Korea. On Nov. 23, North Korea launched an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong island that killed two civilians and two South Korean marines.
On March 26, North Korea sank the South Korean frigate Cheonan, killing 46 South Korean sailors.
In addition, North Korea revealed a new uranium enrichment facility last month that gives new capability to its nuclear weapons program.
Mullen told reporters he has no illusion that North Korea plans to stop these provocations, and said he worries it will conduct another nuclear test.
"No doubt they will continue" unless world leaders step forward to stop them, he said. "I have said more than once, the only thing that is predictable about [Kim Jong Ill] is his unpredictability. And he has a tendency to run these incidents together."
The chairman shared Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' belief, expressed earlier this week to the crew of the USS Abraham Lincoln, that these acts are part of North Korean leader's Kim Jong Ill's effort to prove, particularly to the North Korean military, that his son is "tough and strong and able" enough to succeed him.
Also like Gates, Mullen said he believes China, North Korea's close ally, is "a big part of the solution set here" and expressed optimism that China will play a role in getting North Korea to curtail its aggressive activities.
"They are invested," Mullen said of China. "They live here. Their economy is dependent on stability. They are a world leader. And world leaders must lead, particularly to prevent crises [and] prevent these kinds of destabilizing activities."
Mullen's visit follows a trilateral session Dec. 6, among U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, to discuss the situation.
Mullen called these trilateral meetings critical, citing the U.S. alliances with both countries as "a core piece of strength and stability in that region."
The chairman said he's particularly interested during his visit here in hearing how South Korean leaders view their security challenges. The talks will cover the ongoing joint military exercises, as well as South Korea's own exercises, and appropriate responses in the event of another provocation.
"Clearly we are going to want to work with them on how we view provocations in the future and what kind of responses there should be across the full spectrum of opportunities," diplomatic, political, economic or military, Mullen said.
In addressing these issues, Mullen said a big focus will be on preventing the situation from escalating out of control. He emphasized that South Korean is a sovereign nation and has every right to protect itself.
However, he said he hopes that even routine training missions will be conducted with consideration for the broader, strategic implications and in a way that doesn't further destabilize the peninsula.
"Normalcy and routine are not what they used to be," he said.
Mullen emphasized, however, that he firmly believes that the only way to deal with North Korea is from a position of strength.
"When you are dealing with somebody like this, my belief is, you have to deal from a position of strength. And if you don't do that, there is a price to be paid.," he said. "This guy is a bad guy. And in dealing with bad guys, you can't wish away what they are going to do. And that has been made evident."
Mullen said he believes the recent series of provocations served as "a wake-up call" for many South Koreans about Kim Jong ill and the dangers of his regime.
"These are bad guys," Mullen said. "And I think all of us have to be aware of that as we look at how we are going to address (them)."