Deadly sinking of SKorean warship high on agenda as US defense secretary arrives in Seoul

By Hyung-jin Kim, AP
Monday, July 19, 2010

US defense chief arrives in SKorea for talks

SEOUL, South Korea — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived Monday in South Korea on a trip to underscore Washington’s firm alliance with Seoul as the two nations plan military exercises in a message of deterrence to North Korea.

Gates’ visit comes amid continuing tension on the Korean peninsula over the March 26 sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan that killed 46 sailors. South Korea has blamed the sinking on North Korea.

An international investigation concluded in May that a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo that sank the warship near the tense Korean sea border. The North flatly denies the accusations and has warned any punishment would trigger war.

Gates flew to a military airport near Seoul and is set to meet Tuesday with his South Korean counterpart Kim Tae-young. On Wednesday, the two sides will hold high-profile security talks which will be joined by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The talks were initially arranged to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War and discuss long-term strategies in the bilateral alliance. The U.S. still stations 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the war against communist North Korea that ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The U.S. and South Korea are expected to approve a proposed series of joint military exercise including new naval training off Korea’s west and east coasts, officials said.

“We are not yet ready to announce the precise details of those exercises, but they will involve a wide range of assets and are expected to be initiated in the near future,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said last week. “All of these exercises are defensive in nature, but will send a clear message of deterrence to North Korea and demonstrate our steadfast commitment to the defense of South Korea.”

will not be displayed