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US tells South Korea to be prepared to face 'renewed North Korean provocations'

October 27, 2011 - Seoul

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said Pyongyang still remains a serious threat and that American and South Korean forces should be prepared for the possibility of renewed North Korean provocations.

US officials said recent talks in Geneva with North Korean envoys didn't come to anyconclusion on whether Pyongyang is serious about taking steps to freeze its nuclear-weapons programs.

"North Korea remains a serious threat," the Wall Street Journal quoted Panetta, as saying.

"North Korea continues to defy the international community as it enhances its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities," he added.

Panetta delivered similar messages to Indonesia and Japan. He said the US will maintain its military presence in the region despite sweeping budget cuts at home.

"The US has 28,500 troops in South Korea. It also has expanded cooperation on ballistic-missile defenses to make clear that the U.S. is 'prepared to defeat the North' if deterrence fails and war breaks out," Panetta said.

"These efforts deter North Korean aggression by demonstrating that we have the will and the means to defend the ROK (Republic of Korea)," Panetta added.

The comments reflect the former Central Intelligence Agency director's skepticism about the prospects for a resumption of six-party talks aimed at weaning the North from its nuclear programs, the paper said.

"Our experience, unfortunately, has been that our North Korean friends go through cycles of diplomatic engagement and provocation, and we need to be prepared for how that cycle may play itself out on the next turn," said a senior US defense official.

The official added that the North has yet to take any concrete steps to show it is serious about freezing its nuclear-weapons programs and proliferation activities.


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