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American Forces Press Service

Gates Plans Demilitarized Zone Visit as Gesture of Solidarity

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

CAMP CASEY, South Korea, July 20, 2010 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will visit Korea’s demilitarized zone tomorrow in a demonstration of U.S.-South Korean solidarity.

Gates told soldiers of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team here that he’ll visit the demilitarized zone along with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and their South Korean counterparts to highlight the importance of operations there and to demonstrate the “steadfast” U.S. commitment to South Korea.

“I think [the demilitarized zone visit] is a useful reminder that we are in an armistice and that it is a volatile region,” Gates told reporters after his talk with the soldiers, noting North Korea’s sinking of the freighter Cheonan in March that killed 46 South Korean sailors. “I think it’s a gesture of solidarity with our Korean allies, and recognition that issues of [North Korean] missile and nuclear proliferation endure and continue to be serious challenges for us and for our allies.”

Gates told the soldiers that he and Clinton will participate with their South Korean counterparts in the first “Two-plus-Two Talks” between the two nations tomorrow, and they’ll discuss a wide range of issues, including upcoming military exercises. Though the meetings were in the planning stages before the Cheonan incident, he said, “that attack and our collective efforts to prevent another one will certainly also be a part of our bilateral discussions this week.”

In fact, the secretary said, he would meet later in the day with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young to discuss a series of exercises involving the two nations’ armed forces over the next several months. The exercises, to be held mainly in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, are designed to enhance interoperability and readiness, he said, adding that the exercises also are meant to send a strong signal of deterrence to North Korea.

The aircraft carrier USS George Washington is arriving in South Korea this week for a port visit and will participate in the first exercise of the upcoming series.

“It’s going to be a pretty big exercise -- I think all together [it will involve] about 18 ships – 10 U.S., eight South Korean,” Gates told the soldiers, who are based about 20 miles from the demilitarized zone. The exercise also will involve a large number of aircraft and will feature anti-submarine warfare operations and aircraft operations using an Air Force training range, he added.

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