US defense chief says sinking of ally’s ship does not reveal a weakness in US defenses

By Anne Gearan, AP
Friday, June 4, 2010

Gates: Ship sinking reveals no hole in US forces

SINGAPORE — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the sinking of a South Korean warship doesn’t show gaps in the security that U.S. forces in the Pacific are supposed to provide for allies.

Gates says what the fatal sinking shows is simply that a surprise attack can be very effective.

Gates laid blame for the sinking squarely on North Korea. He told a conference of Asian defense chiefs that there must be consequences for what he called an unprovoked assault.

Gates warned the group that “for nothing to happen would be a very bad precedent.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

SINGAPORE (AP) — The sinking of a South Korean warship is part of a reckless pattern of aggression by North Korea, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday, as the U.S. and its allies turned up the rhetorical heat on the communist country.

“This sinking is far more than a single, isolated incident,” Gates told Asian defense officials at a conference in Singapore.

He called the March sinking of the 1,200-ton patrol ship Cheonan unprovoked and “part of a larger pattern of provocative and reckless behavior” that leaves the destitute country an international pariah.

Gates’ harsh assessment reflects the Obama administration’s pessimism about persuading the North to end its nuclear weapons program.

Pyongyang has walked away from an agreement that would dismantle its nuclear facilities in exchange for economic and political aid, and the White House holds little hope that the diplomatic effort can be revived.

“North Korea must cease its belligerent behavior and demonstrate clearly and decisively that it wants to pursue a different path,” Gates said.

The United States wants China to pressure North Korea to back down, and it wants Chinese support for action at the United Nations Security Council against North Korea.

In his address, Gates did not mention China’s financial and diplomatic support for North Korea but said “the nations of this region share the task of addressing these dangerous provocations.”

After the March sinking, suspicions immediately focused on North Korea. Last month, an international team of investigators issued a report saying that the South Korean warship was most likely torpedoed by a North Korean mini-sub. Pyongyang has angrily rejected the allegation.

South Korea took its case against the North to the Security Council on Friday. China is one of five veto-holding members of the council.

Gates promised continued U.S. support for its ally South Korea and said the two nations are planning joint military exercises in response to the sinking. But he said earlier the U.S. and South Korea are holding off on those exercises until after the United Nations has a chance to respond to the crisis.

He added, without elaboration, that the U.S. is considering “additional options to hold North Korea accountable.”

The United States already has applied trade and other sanctions. Additional punishment could include the U.S. putting North Korea back on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, although legal opinions differ on whether the Cheonan attack was terrorism.

Meanwhile, Gates’ speech appealed to China’s military leaders to restore ties with their U.S. counterparts. China ended cooperation on strategic issues following the Obama administration’s decision in January to go ahead with arms sales to Taiwan worth $6.4 billion.

The arms sale issue is a red herring, Gates said Saturday.

“Taiwan arms sales over the decades have not impeded closer political and economic ties,” Gates told the conference, sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Only in the military-to-military arena has progress on critical mutual security issues been held hostage over something that is, quite frankly, old news.”

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