Deterring North Korea

Picking up on Hillary Clinton’s recent comments, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Iran today that even though U.S. troops are leaving Iraq, America really isn’t going anywhere. “The message to Iran and everybody else that might have any ideas there is that the US is going to have a presence in the region for a long time to come,” Panetta commented. He spoke as he wrapped up a trip to Japan.

After Japan, Panetta headed to Seoul, where he didn’t waste any time getting to the sticky subject of North Korea. He followed up on his recent, strong statement on Pyongyang (he called the regime “reckless”), dubbing the country “a serious threat” and vowing, in an op-ed, to “stand prepared to defeat” North Korea should it attack the South. The SecDef also wrote that despite looming U.S. defense budget cuts, the U.S. military presence in the area is “critical to maintaining deterrence and communicating America’s resolve to defend its allies,” extending the nuclear umbrella to South Korea. Panetta will meet with military leaders, including chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, on Thursday and then will attend a yearly review of the U.S.-South Korean alliance on Friday.

China meanwhile isn’t happy with the things Panetta has had to say lately. A Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman said, “the way the United States handles certain issues in Sino-U.S. relations is neither professional nor diplomatic.” He was alluding in particular to Panetta’s praise of Beijing’s “professional and diplomatic” handling of the news of a U.S. arms-package sale to Taiwan.

A group of U.S. senators sent a letter to U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice urging the international body to take Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to the International Criminal Court. They want the UN to refer “credible allegations of crimes against humanity” perpetrated by Assad to the ICC. And don’t forget U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, whose recent departure from the country due to security concerns “should also be deeply troubling” to the Security Council, wrote the senators.

Saudi crown prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz was buried yesterday, and Washington is sending a high-level delegation to the Saudi Arabia to offer U.S. condolences. Headed by Vice President Joe Biden, the group will include Senator John McCain, CIA director David Petraeus, secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, U.S. ambassador to Riyadh James Smith, and the head of Central Command, General James Mattis.