Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Tuesday that despite intelligence allegedly showing that North Korea aided Syria in developing a nuclear facility, the United States would continue six-party talks with the communist regime over its nuclear program.
Gates called North Korea a “serious adversary,” but he said he knew of no evidence that it was sharing nuclear capabilities with other countries besides Syria. The talks are the best way to confront the regime on proliferation issues, he said.
“I think that we are dealing with the consequences of the proliferation effort we saw in Syria in the six-party talks, and I think that is the appropriate vehicle for that,” Gates said.
The Bush administration has been criticized by some conservatives within the Republican Party for continuing the talks even after North Korea’s failure to make a timely disclosure of the full range of its nuclear activities, as required by an agreement reached this year.
The negotiations involve the U.S., Russia, China, Japan and North and South Korea.
The U.S. Defense chief spoke at a news conference at Yongsan Garrison, the American military base in Seoul, after a ceremony marking the change in command of four-star generals who oversee U.S. forces in South Korea. There are 28,500 American military personnel on the peninsula.
The incoming commander, Army Gen. Walter L. Sharp, pledged that the U.S. would continue to provide for South Korea’s security even as wartime command of the Asian nation’s forces gradually shifts to the Seoul government, a transfer scheduled to be completed in 2012. The South’s military currently is part of a combined force overseen by the American commander.
“As an alliance, we must be prepared to fight and win,” Sharp said. “Today, we and a majority of Seoul are within the range of North Korean artillery. North Korea claims to possess nuclear weapons. . . . Our allied purpose is to continue to deter aggression on the Korean peninsula.”
While in Seoul, Gates also met with South Korea’s defense minister, Lee Sang-hee, to discuss the transfer of command and the gradual move of U.S. forces from Yongsan to new bases south of the capital.
A senior U.S. official traveling with Gates said Lee also raised the prospect of working more closely outside East Asia with the U.S. and the international community.