WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2010 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today condemned the attack by North Korea on the small South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell.
"In a phone call this morning, Secretary Gates told [South Korean Defense] Minister Kim [Tae-young] the United States strongly condemns the artillery attack by North Korea, views it as a violation of the armistice agreement and assured him that we are committed to South Korea's defense,” Morrell said in an issued readout of Gates’ call with Kim.
“He expressed sympathy for the loss of life and appreciation for the restraint shown to date by the South Korean government. The Secretary and the Minister agreed their departments should consult closely and coordinate on any response to this act of aggression by the North,” Morrell said.
The White House this morning issued a statement condemning the attack and calling on North Korea to halt its “belligerent” action and to fully abide by the terms of the Armistice Agreement. Officials from both the White House and DOD affirmed the U.S. alliance with South Korea and are closely monitoring the situation on the Korean peninsula in the wake of today’s attack that is reported to have killed two and injured at least 15.
“We will honor our alliance obligations to the South, and we are determined to promote peace and security on the peninsula,” Morrell said earlier today in an interview on MSNBC.
“We take this very seriously, just as we took the sinking of the Cheonan earlier this year very seriously, [in which] the North murdered some 40 South Korean sailors,” he said.
Morrell said Gates responded to a reporter’s question yesterday about North Korea by saying, “To any question beginning with ‘Why?’ with regards to North Korea, my answer is the same: I don’t know.”
North Korea’s government is extremely unpredictable, and “they do things you could not possibly have predicted in a rational world,” Morrell said.
Morrell said U.S. sanctions in place against North Korea have been strengthened since the March sinking of the Cheonan.
“It’s hard to pile more sanctions upon the North than are already there,” he said, “and yet it seems they are not foolproof. But we’ve always known they aren’t foolproof.”
North Korea’s government “is determined to bypass the sanctions [and] to not abide by its international obligations,” the press secretary said.
North Korea’s irresponsible behavior also is “demonstrated by the fact that it’s trying to be a proliferator of weapons, that it’s dealing with countries that are also under sanctions unfortunately, this is not out of keeping with their belligerent and unpredictable behavior,” Morrell said.
The Defense Department views North Korea’s actions “with concern,” Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan told reporters today.
The North Koreans “certainly increase tensions on the peninsula,” Lapan said, “and so any type of military incidents between North and the Republic of Korea are viewed with concern, because of contributing to instability in the region, and especially on the Korean peninsula.”
Meanwhile, he said, the U.S. government is monitoring the situation and conferring with allies.
"At this point it’s premature to say that we’re considering any [military] action," Lapan said.