US's Gates in South Korea for talks

Defence Secretary Robert Gates will be joined later in the week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a high-profile meeting in Seoul.

US's Gates in South Korea for talks

U.S. President Barack Obama's defence chief begins a visit to South Korea on Monday.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates will be joined later in the week by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a high-profile meeting in Seoul.

Tension between North and South Korea remains high following the March sinking of the warship, Cheonan, killing 46 South Korean sailors. Pyongyang has denied responsibility and escaped censure this month from the United Nations, which condemned the attack but, in deference to China, did not blame North Korea.

North Korea held the first meeting with U.S.-led United Nations Command last week to talk about the Cheonan incident. The two sides are expected to schedule a new session to set up a meeting of generals.

It is also sending its foreign minister to a regional forum in Hanoi on Friday, attended also by the United States and China.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said the talks in Seoul were aimed at assessing the next steps with North Korea, including whether and how to resume stalled talks about Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

Gates will on Tuesday meet some of the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

The trip will culminate Wednesday in the first talks between the U.S. and South Korean secretaries of defense and state.

Economic ties

Clinton also plans to discuss the U.S.-South Korea economic relationship, where Obama has vowed to push through a long-stalled free trade agreement, as well as South Korea's preparations to hold a G20 summit this year.

U.S. officials say the talks are likely to yield at least one concrete result: the announcement in Seoul of a series of joint U.S.-South Korean military drills over a period of months in both the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan.

"These are exercises that enhance our anti-submarine warfare capabilities. They will also, by extension, be a show of force to the North Koreans, and send a message -- what we hope to be a very strong message -- of deterrence," said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell.

China, North Korea's sole ally, has voiced deep concerns about any U.S.-South Korean drills in the Yellow Sea, which separates China and the Korean peninsula.

U.S. officials, briefing reporters ahead of the trip, dismissed those concerns, saying drills in international waters in the Yellow Sea or elsewhere were "routine."

"This is about sending a message to (North Korea). It's not about sending a message to the Chinese. And it should not be interpreted as such," Morrell said.

Beijing broke off military-to-military contacts with the United States this year after the Obama administration notified Congress of a plan to sell Taiwan up to $6.4 billion worth of arms. Underscoring its displeasure, Beijing turned down a visit by Gates to China in June.

Reuters

Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Temmuz 2010, 11:21

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