Washington weak on N. Korea and Iran.
"We will not stand idly by as North Korea builds the capability to wreak destruction on any target in the region or on us," US defense secretary Robert Gates said in a speech Saturday, May 30, at the annual Asian security conference in Singapore. But he insisted the next step in negating Pyongyang's ambitions would be political, not military and called for stronger sanctions against internationally censured North Korea and Iran.
DEBKAfile notes that the first round of Security Council sanctions were ineffectual; Pyongyang conducted its nuclear test Monday May 25 regardless, and is reportedly preparing the test-fire of a second long-range missile in defiance of international condemnation. Washington weak on N. Korea and Iran.
While the US maintains 250,000 military personnel in the region and will continue as a "resident power," the US defense secretary said its role is changing. He told delegates from 20 Asian and European nations to take more effective action jointly and rely less on America. He urged more US-Chinese cooperation.
North Korea has a million-strong army, with thousands of tanks and artillery pieces close enough to the border to have the South Korean capital of Seoul within range.
In his speech, Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of general staff of China's People's Liberation Army, said: "We are resolutely opposed to nuclear proliferation. Our view is that the Korean peninsula should move towards denuclearization." The Chinese general added: "Our hope is that all parties concerned will remain cool-headed and take measures to address the problem."
Clearly, no military response is contemplated for now against North Korea, although Pyongyang has threatened military action against the South after Seoul's decision to join a US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) under which North Korean ships could be stopped and searched.
As for proliferation, Gates insisted that the "transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and our allies."
Yet he, like other administration officials, was careful to avoid mentioning North Korea's blatant nuclear and missile transfers to Iran going back years.
DEBKAfile's military sources stress that the overlap between the two extends to their nuclear timetables and posture of defiance in the face of international condemnation. North Korea and Iran match one another step for step, learning for one another's experience and mistakes.
DEBKAfile's Washington sources affirm that US President Barack Obama is preparing America and the world to accept the necessity of living with a nuclear-armed North Korea, as the world's ninth nuclear power.
An unnamed US official said: "This is a whole new ballgame and it's a whole lot deeper and darker and scarier." He added: …It's a bit like when you get out a pair of binoculars and you get it just right. It has brought into crystalline focus what North Korea's intentions are – that they do mean to develop this capability."
This perception will be hardest of all for North Korea's neighbors, especially South Korea and Japan, to live with. Their response may well be a nuclear race, mirrored by the Middle East's skeptical reaction to the Obama administration's policy of halting Iran's progress toward a nuclear bomb by dialogue.
Israel's leader, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, defense minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman are taking advantage of the long Shavuoth Festival weekend to withhold comment on the position taking shape in Washington with regard to a North Korea's nuclear attainments and its possible implications for Iran's program.
DEBKAfile's defense sources affirm that Tehran took note of the Obama administration's inaction when North Korea launched its long-range Taepodong-2 missile on April 5 even though the Americans knew an underground nuclear test was on the way. Iran will be even more encouraged by Washington's "political" response to the nuclear test itself to go forward with preparations for its own test.