Washington: The recent rhetoric and actions taken by Pyongyang in past few weeks present a real danger not only to Japan and South Korea but also to the American interests in the region, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said.
"Some of the actions they've taken over the last few weeks present a real and clear danger and threat to the interests, certainly of our allies, starting with South Korea and Japan, and also the threats that the North Koreans have leveled directly at the US regarding our base in Guam, threatened Hawaii, threatened the West Coast of the US," Hagel said on Wednesday at the National Defence University.
"As Secretary of Defence and I think beginning with the President of the United States, and all of our leaders, we take those threats seriously. We have to take those threats seriously. I think we have had measured, responsible, serious responses to those threats," he said. Hagel said the US is working with China to diffuse the ongoing situation while the country is holding joint exercises with the South Koreans now.
"We are doing everything we can, working with the Chinese, others to defuse that situation on the Peninsula. But, as I said in a news conference, last week when asked about this, it only takes being wrong once. And I don't want to be the secretary of defence who was wrong once," Hagel said. As such the US will continue to take these threats seriously, he added. "I hope the North will ratchet this very dangerous rhetoric down. There is a pathway that's responsible for the North to get on a path to peace, working with their neighbors," he said.
"There are many, many benefits to their people that could come. But they've got to be a responsible member of the world community. And you don't achieve that responsibility and peace and prosperity by making nuclear threats and taking very provocative actions," Hagel said.
He also said China does not want the increasing tension in the Korean peninsula to worsen any further. "North Korea is a very good example of a common interest. Certainly, the Chinese don't want a right now complicated, combustible situation to explode into a worse situation. It's not in their interests for that to happen, certainly not in our interests or our allies' interests," Hagel said.
While pointing out the conversation which he had with Chinese counterpart General Chang Wanquan on Tuesday night, he said it was very positive and we talked about some pretty tough issues including that of North Korea and Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the White House also said that the US President Barack Obama is seriously monitoring the situation. "Well, we continue to monitor the situation. The provocative actions and bellicose rhetoric that we see from North Korea is obviously of concern, and we are taking the necessary precautionary measures, many of which have been reported on," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
"It is also the case that the behavior of the regime in Pyongyang that we are seeing now represents a familiar pattern, and as I think we've seen over the past several administrations. So we are taking the necessary precautionary measures, but it is important to view this within the context of the kind of behavior that we've seen out of North Korea in the past," he noted.
"It is important to say that, in every instance, this refusal to abide by its international obligations and to engage in threats and provocative rhetoric and behavior only serves to isolate North Korea further, to make it more and more difficult for the North Korean economy to develop, and imposes more and more hardships on the North Korean people," Carney said.
Whereas, the State Department regretted the North Korean move to stop South Koreans from crossing the border to work at the jointly-run industrial zone. "We consider this a regrettable move. We think that the ban ought to be lifted," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters on Wednesday.
"This isn't the first time that the DPRK has denied South Korean workers access to the Kaesong industrial plant. It, from our perspective, always works to the detriment of North Korea, first and foremost, given the number of North Koreans who are employed there, and the opportunity to make money in the economy," she said. "So again, this is just a choice that further isolates the country, rather than taking them in a direction of a better future for their people," Nuland said.