Gates says he will discuss N. Korean provocations, nukes with China

January 10, 2011 10:02 am 

By Hwang Doo-hyong

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he will discuss ways to prevent further provocations from North Korea and denuclearize the isolated communist state while visiting China early this week.

"I think that the one topic for both my visit and for President Hu's meetings with the president is, how can we work together to prevent further provocations, bring greater stability, and then see if we can move forward with North Korean denuclearization and some of the other things that they could do that would open the way for further progress," Gates told reporters aboard a flight en route to Beijing Saturday, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon.

"One of our goals is to see if we can get out ahead of these periodic provocations by the North Koreans and bring greater stability to the peninsula. We have a mutual interest in that."

Gates was referring to North Korea's shelling of a South Korean front-line island and torpedoing of a South Korean warship last year, which raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula to the highest level since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea also revealed in November a uranium enrichment plant that could serve as a second way of producing nuclear bombs, aside from its existing plutonium program, despite Pyongyang's claims it is producing fuel for power generation.

North Korea last week called for unconditional dialogue with South Korea.

South Korea sees the proposal as insincere because it came without an apology for last year's deadly attacks.

Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have insisted that Pyongyang apologize for the attacks on Yeonpyeong Island and the Cheonan warship before any resumption of bilateral or multilateral nuclear talks that involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

China, the North's staunchest ally, sides with the North, calling for an early resumption of the six-party talks to ease tensions.

Gates, who will also visit Seoul and Tokyo later this week, expressed concerns over China's development of stealth fighters and bombers and missiles targeting aircraft carriers.

"We knew they were working on a stealth aircraft. I think that what we've seen is that they may be somewhat further ahead in the development of that aircraft than our intelligence had earlier predicted," he said. "They clearly have the potential to put some of our capabilities at risk, and we have to pay attention to them. We have to respond appropriately with our own programs. My hope would be that that would be part of the strategic dialogue, that as the two countries begin to talk about strategy and policies and so on that intentions will become more transparent."

North Korea will be high on the agenda at the Jan. 19 summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Other topics will include the Chinese currency yuan's revaluation, Iran's nuclear ambitions and other mutual and global issues, Obama aides have said.

Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, left for Beijing Sunday to "meet with senior officials in preparation for the state visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington later this month," the State Department said in a statement.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was in Washington last week to prepare for Hu's visit.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Yang and reaffirmed the need for the North to meet its obligations under a six-party deal signed in 2005 for its denuclearization in exchange for economic aid and diplomatic benefits, her spokesman, Philip Crowley, said.

Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, concluded a week-long trip to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo last week amid speculations Washington is gearing up to move to engagement from strategic patience ahead of Obama's summit with Hu.

The flurry of diplomacy comes amid hopes for rapprochement in inter-Korean ties as both Koreas are reaching out to one another to ease tensions.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said last week that the door for inter-Korean dialogue is still open, hoping to achieve the North's denuclearization through the six-party talks and inter-Korean dialogue this year, ahead of the North's plans to become a "strong and prosperous state" by 2012.

The year 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the North's founder, Kim Il-sung, father of current leader Kim Jong-il. (PNA/Yonhap)

ALM/ebp

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