WASHINGTON, April 3, 2013 – U.S. leaders are taking North Korean threats seriously and will continue to make measured responses to Kim Jong Un’s bellicosity, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said here today.
The secretary spoke to students at the National Defense University at Fort Lesley J. McNair.
The North Korean leader has threatened to shell the South Korean capital of Seoul and to launch missiles at Guam, Hawaii and the western United States. He also rescinded the armistice North Korea signed with the United Nations in 1953 that ended hostilities on the Korean Peninsula. This week, he announced he was restarting a nuclear plant to produce more weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.
“It only takes being wrong once, and I don’t want to be the secretary of defense that was wrong once,” Hagel said in answer to a student’s question. “We will continue to take these threats seriously. I hope the North will ratchet this very dangerous rhetoric down.”
For decades, officials have urged North Korean leaders to abide by the agreements they signed. These include a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and an end to provocations against South Korea. But the North Korean government’s behavior has resulted in sanctions, and millions of children there have had their growth stunted by malnutrition. The world is willing to help North Korea, Hagel said.
“But they have to be a responsible member of the world community,” he added. “You don’t achieve that responsibility and peace and prosperity by making nuclear threats and taking very provocative actions.”
North Korea has a nuclear capacity and is working on the missile systems to deliver those weapons. “As they have ratcheted up their dangerous, bellicose rhetoric, [North Korea presents] a real and clear danger and threat” to American allies and the U.S. homeland itself, the secretary said.
“I think we have taken measured responses to those threats,” Hagel said. “We are … undergoing joint exercises with the South Koreans now. We are doing everything we can, working with the Chinese and others, to defuse the situation on the peninsula.”
Yesterday, the secretary spoke with new Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Chang Wanquan. The two men discussed ways for the two nations to work together.
The United States and China can bridge their differences by concentrating on common interests, Hagel said. “It’s not differences that matter, it is how you deal with them,” he said. “You build a platform for a relationship on your common interests, not on your differences.”
North Korea is a good example of a common interest, the secretary said.
“Certainly, the Chinese don’t want a complicated and combustible situation to explode into a worse situation,” he said. “It’s not in their interests for that to happen. It’s certainly not in our interest or our allies’ interests.”