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U.S. Backs South Korea’s Response to North Korean Aggression

The word from the White House and from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is “unequivocal,” by which the Obama administration fully supports the actions of the South Korean government in response to North Korea’s unprovoked rocket attack on its Naval ship the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak announced that the South will close shipping lanes to the impoverished North and cease all economic activity with it. He plans to get the United Nations Security Council to address the Cheonan attack — a move that has the backing of the White House. “Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice are each consulting very closely with their Korean counterparts,” read a White House statement issued at 1 a.m. today, “as well as with Japan, China, and other UN Security Council member states in order to reach agreement on the steps in the Council.”

The operative part of the statement:

Specifically, we endorse President Lee’s demand that North Korea immediately apologize and punish those responsible for the attack, and, most importantly, stop its belligerent and threatening behavior. U.S. support for South Korea’s defense is unequivocal, and the President has directed his military commanders to coordinate closely with their Republic of Korea counterparts to ensure readiness and to deter future aggression. We will build on an already strong foundation of excellent cooperation between our militaries and explore further enhancements to our joint posture on the Peninsula as part of our ongoing dialogue.

Flying back from a major economic summit in China, Clinton declined to say that the Chinese, North Korea’s last remaining benefactor, saw the Cheonan incident as the U.S. and the South Koreans do. But “the Chinese recognize the gravity of the situation we face,” she said. “The Chinese understand the reaction by the South Koreans, and they also understand our unique responsibility for the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.” Clinton added that the North Koreans have caused “a highly precarious situation” on the Korean peninsula.

Speaking last week at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates pointedly noted that whatever strain from two extended wars that the U.S. Army and Marine Corps feel doesn’t apply to the forces that would respond to a resumption of hostilities in Korea. “If there were a problem in Korea, our main arms would be the Navy and the Air Force,” Gates said. “And so we — those are not stretched in the same way that the — that the ground forces are. But again, the key to remember — the key thing to remember here is that this was an attack on a South Korean ship, and the South Koreans need to be in the lead in terms of proposing ways forward.”

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